Whew, where to begin – I suppose, with a disclaimer that sits atop many ultra race reports…something along the lines of “this will be long, but it was a long race!”
I signed up for the Triple Lakes Trail 40 miler a few weeks ago, after having a solid block of training over the past ~6 weeks in a (probably undeserved) bout of confidence in myself and my ability. The graph below shows my training for the past year – low but mostly steady mileage in the heat of the summer, with a pretty sharp uptick in weekly miles in Sept (not exactly coinciding with the turn in weather…thank you, 95-degree NC September, for the additional heat training).
Before this race, I hit 80 miles in a week for the first time, and it felt…surprisingly manageable? I took a down week after that (work, travel, 80-mile week prior…seemed like a smart idea) then bumped back up over 70 for the two weeks leading up to this race. Notably, my *only* long run was the week prior to race week, wherein I did one 22-mile progression run that was a huge confidence boost. I hadn’t run over maybe…14 miles?…before this long run since the Umstead Marathon in March, so the fact that it felt the best of any long run I’ve done ever was encouraging as hell. For race week, my plan was to run easy [that means ‘slow’ (no, actually slow. 10-min miles slow), for those of you who haven’t picked up on this key training philosophy yet, somehow] and limit to maybe 20-30 pre-race miles (ended up with ~25 miles going into the race). I had a few aches and pains due to the sudden decrease in mileage – I hate tapering, so I mostly don’t do it, but cutting back this much basically emulates the same effect on my physical and mental state.
I got everything packed Friday night (including a super neurotic list of everything I had, in the hopes it would help Mark, the world’s most disorganized human, stay organized while crewing), felt pretty relaxed, and got a great night’s sleep. I woke up surprisingly calm on race morning, and we seamlessly got out the door by 5:30 am to head to Greensboro. It was an uneventful morning, my body cooperated with pre-race requirements (i.e., I had a great and normal poop 😀 ). I got to the starting line with my handheld (with Tailwind) and with some chews and Werther’s hard candies packed into my bra, notably missing the apparent-ultra-required hydration pack (no thanks, if I can avoid it), and we were off promptly at 8:05.
The first couple miles were on road and greenway, leading to the first and second trails (‘little loop’ and ‘big loop’). I was running controlled and easy while also ensuring I didn’t get stuck behind a bunch of slower folks on the trail. Miles 1-3 featured me being followed by a woman running the 40k (which I only learned later) and breathing weirdly heavily for so early in the race. She backed off immediately when I got on the trail, and I was essentially without any other women for the entirety of the race from that point on. The first 11 miles were very easy – I ran quicker than I thought I’d be able to maintain for 40 miles, but I thought it was a smart enough pace to buy me some time while not causing me to blow up. The trail was rooty but runnable and mostly flat-ish. Around mile 11, the 40K split off from the 40-miler, and I went left to continue towards a long out-and-back comprising multiple trail segments, while the two guys that had been running close behind me went right. At this point, I was totally alone, which continued for most of the race.
I’d been fueling pretty well with Tailwind and Clif Bloks, and I felt great. I crossed the 10-mile marker in 1:30 – spicy! I knew I needed to slow my roll a bit from 10-20, so I intentionally dialed it back, conveniently timed with a much tougher trail section that would’ve probably caused me to ruin my day had I tried to push much harder than I did. As I approached mile 15, I stopped paying close attention to the trail markings and went straight where I should’ve gone left – this fun detour added a little over a half mile and approximately 6 minutes to my race. I was sorely confused when I got out to a road with no markings and realized I needed to backtrack and find my way onto the course. I had a brief moment of total dejection until I remembered the guy at Barkley Fall Classic this year who had to go all the way down the entirety of a climb because he forgot to get his bib punched – he did so graciously and (still!) won the race anyway, so I figured I could survive 6 wasted minutes and an extra half mile. During this stretch, I was drinking Coke (that Mark had kindly gotten to me at the last road crossing) and Tailwind and taking in more chews.
I approached the turnaround (close to mile 19), which was in an open field in direct sunlight. I realized at this point that it was getting warm (no, not hot, remember 95-degree September? Not hot). Mark was there with all my fuel options and forced me to down some SportLegs and chewable salt tabs to combat the increasing temps. I had some ginger ale, learned I supposedly had at least 10 minutes on 2nd place, and continued on back the way I came.
Quickly, maybe 2 minutes later, I encountered 2nd place. Uhhhh…well, that’s where that 6-min detour came into play. I was running scared, wanting to regain some of my lead, but I was also starting to feel *terrible*. In addition to being a tough section of trail, I realized the 2nd 10 miles (plus bonus detour) took 1:45, a considerable slowing, and it was finally sinking in just how long 40 miles was – I still had half the race to go and was losing my lead far too early. Knowing I’d only had 1 long run before this race, I was mentally feeling the impact of the remaining miles, not knowing how my physical state was going to hold up. I tried to run a bit harder, and mostly failed, til mile 25. I tried to acknowledge that this was just a rough patch and pushed on as best I could.
At the next road crossing, I made it through the rough patch! The next few miles were glorious – I felt great, ran consistently, and fueled well. I crossed the road again around mile 25, heading onto what had remained of the 40K course, with 15 miles to go. Mark sprinted into the trail, having missed me at the aid station, and gave me a cider – I only had a few sips before heading off, but the very sweet, very tart, very alcoholic beverage carried me through a lovely next two miles. I then tried (and failed) to take another chew around mile 27, causing me to gag and nearly vomit for the remainder of the mile. I eventually got over it, through yet another rough patch, and carried on through a pretty hilly section of trail (Laurel Bluff, I think). At some point here, I passed one of the guys in front of me, who was exclusively walking.
The next aid station was mile 31, my first 50K! Mark was ready with more fun options (watermelon, applesauce packets), as I continued on to Nat Greene trail. This was a pretty runnable segment despite my steadily tiring legs. At some point, I ran into a guy in front of me, asking ‘where do we go?’. The trail was well marked, and I think he had somehow missed, throughout the entire last 6-7 miles, that there had been 40K and 40-mile markers the entire time – he got turned around after seeing a 40K marker and apparently wandered back for ~10-20 minutes. We ended up running close by for the rest of the race, wherein I heard lots of weird shit come out of his mouth (including, most notably to me, him saying how he was now running a ‘terrible’ time. Thanks, guy!). Talking to someone was nice, though, and helped me pass some time as my legs really tired out. I hit the final road crossing (and the final time I could access my one-man crew) and learned I’d re-upped my lead to at least 10 minutes. Me and terrible-time guy continued on to the last two trail segments, feeling mostly confident in our relative positions.
We ran most of this segment, which quickly turned into windy, undulating mountain bike trail, hiking some of the steeper ascents. We hit the last aid station, where I downed more Coke and poured water on my head before continuing on. At some point, Mark ran into the trail, telling us we had ~1.5 miles to go. That was either a lie or a very long 1.5 miles – it is forever unknowable which one was true. I pushed as much as I could, trying to ignore the deep tired ache my legs had been feeling since mile 36. Once we hit the greenway, it was a quick, steep uphill climb to the finish – it’s amazing how your body can ignore the uphill when there’s a finish line at the top. I crossed the line in 6 hours and 49 minutes, first female overall, winning by 15-20 minutes. I won a cool wooden rum cup, a buff, and $120 to Fleet Feet Greensboro, which I very quickly spent.
Considering the limited training, the non-existent long runs, and this being my first-ever over ~27-mile effort, I am both thrilled and surprised with this outcome. My stomach cooperated all day, and I thought my legs would feel considerably worse than they did considerably earlier in the race. I basically felt the same level of ‘bad’ from 20-36 and then only slightly worse from 36-finish. I only cried a little after I finished, which is maybe the most surprising part of all.
I have to make this its own paragraph, because I could write almost an entire separate report highlighting everything Mark did to ensure I had what I needed/wanted today. He was an amazing crew. He drove the entire course, back and forth, finding me at any possible spot he could glean from the confusing, winding course map. He was encouraging and accommodating but also firm in his suggestions (e.g., when he forced me to take ginger pills and salt tabs that I had initially rejected). He took pictures, cheered, and even ran things into the trail to make sure I had them. Beyond everything today, he is my coach in running and my partner in everything, and I’m so grateful to him for supporting me, making me a better athlete, and keeping me healthy and uninjured through his sage guidance. This is sappy as hell, and he’ll fucking hate it, but he’ll just have to deal.
Well, some recovery miles tomorrow – gotta keep moving and keep my very dumb approaching-one-year 3-mi-a-day streak alive. I’m running Nutcracker 6-hr in December and some other things later on. I guess I do ultras now? What the fuck.