After Howl, I wasn't sure what my next race would be. Farmdale was a logical choice, but I was apprehensive after what I had experienced there last year during a 7 hour thunderstorm and what ended up being the most terrifying 30 miles of my life. Also, I wasn't wild about doing the same set of races for the second year in a row. What I like about ultras is that everything is fresh and new, every race is bound to be a PR. I didn't want to do the same races over again and get frustrated/burned out like I did with marathons.
I looked around for other ultras, but couldn't come up with much. I got it into my head that (in the spirit of keeping things new and wanting to be a badass), maybe I would do the 50 mile race at Farmdale this year instead of the 30. I started running an insane (for me) amount of miles per week-- 8 or 9 miles every day before work and reaching 50-60 miles [actutally, 62.7 miles one week] for 3 weeks in a row. It was intense, particularly given that I was unable to reduce any of the other time/energy expenditures in my life.
The main thing that was holding me back from committing to the 50 mile race was that it started at 5am, meaning that the first 2 hours would be in complete darkness on a rugged, rocky, rooty, uneven, hilly, single-track trail. Rob and I actually visited the Farmdale course a couple weeks before the event, and I tried to run on it in the dark (with a headlamp). It was horrifying. I felt completely dejected and worried that I would have to give up trail running and ultras in general, but eventually I dusted myself off and went ahead and signed up for the 30 miler. It might not be pretty, but at least it would be in the daylight.
Then, about a week before the race, the government shut down, and the race directors notified us that as a result, the Farmdale Reservoir (managed by the US Army Corps of Engineers) was shut down as well. The race was off. Sort of. They were looking for an alternate location and would keep us updated. On the Thursday before the race, they confirmed that we were good to go at Jubilee College State Park in Brimfield. Game on.
We stayed with my parents the night before and left for Jubilee at 4 in the morning. Rob, being the true badass of the family, was doing 50 miles. A motley group of seriously hardcore runners lined up at the start and took off in the darkness at 5am. I finished getting my stuff ready and then huddled in our tent--wearing every item of clothing I own, plus a few extra scarves and hats--until about quarter till 7, when the sun finally came up. I put on my anti-nausea wrist bands and grabbed a bottle of Tailwind Nutrition (my strategy to avoid throwing up during/after the race, as is typical for me). I chatted with a few of the Buffalo runners from C-U who had arrived by then, and soon it was time to start.
It was good. The trail was fairly wide at the beginning and I never felt like I was in a traffic jam. I started towards the back and just took it nice and easy. Running alongside a friend from C-U helped keep me calm and take the edge off. An early section of the course involved a root-infested downhill, where decent footing was very limited. But it was okay. The trail was still wide enough that it didn't get too congested. I could go my own pace on the technical sections and feel strong.
About 8 or 9 minutes into the race, the trail widened even more into a rocky, fire-road section. It was a gradual uphill, and everybody around me started walking. I wasn't ready to walk on that gentle of a grade, that early in the race. I kept going, and soon I was on my own. I was fine with that. It was nice to be out in the open. Most of the first half of the loop was wide, with gently rolling hills.
There was an aid station near the 3 mile mark, and after that, the trail was mainly single track, and a bit more technical. I still felt strong. My pace was slow, but by the end of the first loop, I was confident. I had seen the entire course and it was a trail I could do.
Back at the start/finish area, I replenished my bottle of Tailwind. So far so good. A lot of ultra runners swear by Tailwind, and the company motto is: "All you need, all day. Really." This is good news for someone who cannot eat solid food or gels during a race and typically becomes so depleted that she pukes for hours on end. The first time I tried Tailwind, it reminded me of the suero that a pregnant Chilean girl gave me in Nicaragua when I was dying of The Vortex. But then Rob ordered some of their "unflavored" powder, and that went down much easier. I was really hoping that Tailwind, along with my anti-nausea wrist bands, would be the panacea I'd been looking for to finally break my habit of vomiting on the run.
I headed out for Lap 2. The course was an approximately 7.5 mile loop that the 30-milers would run 4 times, and the 50-milers would run 7. Rob and I saw each other briefly around that time, as he began (I think) his 4th lap. He looked strong, and he was up near the front of the 50 mile race.
Lap 2 was comfortable for me. There were hills, rocks, and roots, but overall, it was my kind of trail. I relaxed into the course. I chatted with other runners as we came into contact, and I enjoyed the sections where I was on my own. Tailwind was working well, but I knew I wasn't drinking enough of it to completely supply all the calories/electrolytes I needed, so I ate some Fig-Newmans, orange slices, and watermelon at the aid station.
The hillier, more rugged back half of the course was a little more difficult the second time around. Just as I was thinking how lucky I was not to have fallen thus far, I wiped out on a tree root and hit the ground. No damage done. I kept running, but I walked more of the hills this time. My legs were beginning to feel fatigued, and I was very glad I was doing 30 miles instead of 50.
Time for Lap 3. I knew this would be the hardest one. The first lap was all about observing/learning the course, the second was about relaxing and knowing that the terrain was within my comfort zone, but the third was where an inkling of despair might creep in.
I started to lose my optimism. My quads were killing me. My socks felt like sandpaper, and I could envision the blisters forming on the bottoms of my feet. Out of the blue, I fell again. I started to become annoyed with the course. I told myself that this was really the last loop of the race. Loop 4 would be a "victory lap"-- I could walk it in if I had to. All I had to do was finish Loop 3.
When I made it back to the start/finish area, I took off my socks, applied more Body Glide to my raw, blistered feet, and put on a fresh pair of Injinjis. That ate away at my time. Injinjis go on quite slowly when your feet are wet with sweat.
I knew I needed something to perk me up, so I drank a cup of Coke before I headed back out for Lap 4. It was like night and day. My mood shifted almost instantaneously. The tiny bits of negativity that had seeped into my brain during Lap 3 were nothing like the full on paranoia and panic I've experienced in some ultras, but after I drank the Coke, they were gone completely. I flew around the course, or at least if felt like I was flying. Only 7.5 miles to go! I met struggling runners along the way, and I cheered them on as I went.
At some point on the back half of the loop, I saw a snake-- just lying across the trail like a tree root. It looked like it was smiling at me. For some reason I found this hilarious. I stopped to take a picture of it, but then I remembered I didn't have my phone/camera with me.
So close to the end. I was tired and a little weak, but the euphoria of being nearly finished overshadowed all of that. I felt something snap on my toe, and was pretty sure that it was a toenail popping off. I looked down and saw a spot of blood blossoming on my shoe. It hurt but not as bad as childbirth. I could get through this. There was only a mile to go.
I came across a guy who was sitting on the side of the trail and looking pretty out of it. As I approached I asked him how he was doing, and he could barely speak. He said he was so tired, he just couldn't move anymore. He was out of food and water. I gave him some Tailwind and a caffeinated Gu. My friend from C-U (who I had begun the race with), and a 50-mile runner (who I'd seen several times throughout the day) caught up with us. We stayed with the guy until he was feeling better, and then we picked up and ran.
The finish line was so close. I wondered if Rob was done with the 50-mile or if he was still out there. I flew to the end. It was the most amazing feeling in the world to see the start/finish area come into view and to hear the volunteers ring cowbells as they shouted "Runner in!"
I was done. By my watch: 6 hours, 40 minutes, and 31 seconds. Or, according to the official results: 6:37:19. Either way, almost 40 minutes faster than last year at Farmdale, during a thunderstorm. And the best thing by far was that I had not thrown up! I hadn't even felt nauseated! It has been at least 4 years since I've done a long-distance run and not gotten sick!
The race director told me I was second in my age group and handed me my prize--a beer glass with the Farmdale logo printed on it. I was thrilled! They ushered me over to a keg and filled my new glass with beer. First time I have ever been able to drink after a race! Is this what it's like for other people-- not to get sick from running? It was great! I clinked glasses with my C-U friend and enjoyed the moment.
None of the 50-milers had finished yet, and it was nearly 9 hours into their event. I figured they would be coming soon, and I wanted to see Rob cross the line. Our friend Chris M told me that he'd seen Rob on the course, and he said he wasn't feeling well. I wondered if I should head back out and try to find him, to run it in with him. But I figured even if Rob wasn't feeling well, he would still be running at a much faster pace than I could manage now. While I thought I still had time, I started gathering up some of our stuff from the tent to load it back in the car. Then I stood by the finish line and waited. Still, none of the 50-milers crossed.
I realized how cold I was now that I was done running and wearing just shorts and a tank top in the breeze. I tried to run back to the car and grab a sweatshirt, but as soon as I stepped away from the finish line, that was the moment that Rob crossed. Damn! I saw him finish, but it was from a distance.
He had hung on to second place overall (!), but he had a really, really tough race-- especially in those last few laps. He didn't feel very good, so we waited around until he stabilized, and then I drove us home.
Farmdale/Jubilee was a really great experience for me this year--so much better than last year--but I am really glad I did the 30 instead of the 50. I think it would have been a much different story if I'd run an extra 20 miles. I don't know how anybody did that.
What I learned from this race:
1. Some combination of Tailwind/anti-nausea wristbands works for me. Or maybe it was the cooler temperatures and shorter distance, particularly compared to my last race (Howl).
2. I don't think I need 250 calories per hour (i.e., the recommendation for "average" runners). I probably consumed about 700-800 calories during the entire race, far less than the ~1600 I "should" have needed. I think I would have had a lot of trouble had the race been longer, but at this distance, I was okay.
3. There are certain trails that I am well suited for. Such as this one. Jubilee had a lot of rolling hills and a lot of tree roots, but it wasn't terribly technical. No terrifyingly narrow descents with a cliff face on one side. This trail was relatively wide for the most part. Rob, and some of the other trail runners I heard talking, do better on the more technical courses, with steep downhills where they can build up speed. But as for me-- give me as many "rollers" as you want, I'll get by (for 30 miles at least). Maybe even manage to smile at the end.
4. Downhills are what scare me, but every time I fell (tripped on a tree root), it was when I was going uphill.
5. I think I like "doula-ing" other runners (like the guy who was struggling so close to the end) as much as I like running myself. I would really like to crew/pace/volunteer at an ultra sometime.
6. Despite the numerous things I just listed above, you don't learn as much when you have a good day. The tough races are the ones that teach you lessons.
Would I do this race again?
Yes, on the Jubiliee course. Presumably it will be on the actual Farmdale course next year, which is harder for me (particularly in the rain). If we are still living in the area next year at this time, I suppose I will feel compelled to give it another go.
Lap 1 - 1:32:57
Lap 2 - 1:36:15
Lap 3 - 1:52:39 (sock change!)
Lap 4 - 1:38:39
One more thing:
A very big thank you to my parents who watched Will while we ran and also to the race directors who managed to pull this together in spite of the government shut down and massive change of plans!