Monday, June 3, 2013

Race Report: Conquer the Cove Trail Marathon (Alexis)

Going into this race I knew two things: 1.) I was likely not going to win, not with Dacia Reed on the entrant list and 2.) I had committed to a second run in the afternoon in an attempt to run upwards of 50 miles as my last (extremely) long day before Western States. Knowing these things I was still unsure of whether I was going to 'race' or just 'train' through the marathon as I waited at the start line for the Conquer the Cove Marathon to begin.

Fortunately, I've made many friends in the Mountain Junkies scene and decided to focus on catching up with them rather than the bigger, longer task ahead. Starting out on the road I allowed myself to fall back, maintaining a ten minute pace on asphalt as I watched many of the runners I like to run with pull away. I figured it was important to warm up and that it was a long race, that I could catch up. Reaching the Trough trail I was feeling good but already sweating despite not overly pushing it. I was caught up in a conversation when we came across the first water stop. It was early, I thought the aid stations were two miles apart and so I made the fatal race error to skip this aid station seeing as my bottle was halfway full.

I should have seen that bottle as halfway empty.

Running on, I was sweating and drinking and not long after my bottle was empty and I looked at my watch and we were not even four miles in, I began to grow concerned. Then over the next few miles I began to have little sizzling calf cramps all over my lower legs, they were not debilitating but they were fearsome and I backed off my pace and kept listening for sounds of the next approaching aid station which, to my absolute dismay, turned to be much further out than I had anticipated. I slowed down fearing that if I ran hard it would make me sweat more and become worse off. Clearly I did a poor job of reading the water stop description and paying attention at the first aid station sign, both of which would have prepared me for the distance between aid stations.

I was so thankful when I finally heard the sounds of the aid station but there was still a switchback or two before we finally came upon it. I filled my bottle with water and drank a cup of Gatorade, something that I never do but hoped it would help stop the cramping.

I took a GU, some salt pills and drank up the water but I still continued to experience the little sizzling cramps. I focused on staying steady even if it was slower than I would have liked and was happy to finally be sweating again. At the third aid station I drank two cups of Gatorade and filled my bottle once again. In the Enchanted Forest I had a moment where I thought I was on the wrong trail and slowed a little as I was all alone, I was really considering turning around when I finally caught sight of a runner ahead and decided that at least I wasn't alone anymore even if I was lost. Thankfully, however, I wasn't lost and soon saw a streamer again.

Through this section of the race I kept wavering about whether to just call it a day and just finish or try and pick the pace up. For a few minutes I would decide none of it mattered, just enjoy the day and my surroundings. Other times I would decide that the race was long and I still had a chance of a good day. Then other times I was down on all of it and had to convince myself to keep a steady moving pace. It's too early for this to be your wall, find your will, I would try to encourage. At one point in the down and out I saw Randy and Lauren up ahead and picked up the pace to catch up with them. I was hoping we could help each other along. They were quiet, as was I, and Lauren's stomach was upset, I moved ahead slowly as Randy wished me a good day.

With the poor hydrating choice early on I had forgone any GU schedule and I had the overall feeling that even if I was just 'training through' I wasn't really even doing a good job with this training run. At mile 13 I finally looked at my watch for the first time in a long while, it said 2:07. The race was advertised at being 26.4, I figured I would be lucky to hit under 4:20 at all and I knew that the '1,000 foot climb' was still looming up ahead. I decided to restart a GU schedule of every 40 minutes and run as steady as possible.

I was hoping to find runners up ahead to try and pull me but I was out there alone for miles, I ended up having to go to my iPod for help. I started focusing on mile signs and when the big climb was coming. When I reached the climb I found the first part to be the hardest, the section that is before the aid station, I had to walk and tried to alternate with short bursts of both running and walking. I knew I was walking too much and that if I walked this much of the climb I was destined to run more like 4:30.

Coming into the aid station I took a GU, drank a little more Gatorade and filled my bottle. The awesome volunteers directed me to tubs of cold towels and I washed my face and neck down with one which was amazing. I left the aid station knowing I had to run stronger than I was really feeling like running, I wanted to be done, I knew I'd regret it later if I didn't try and do my best on the hill. I tried to convince myself that if I ran well I might catch someone on the hill. I started running and ran the next mile, but I didn't see another runner. I gave myself a break but in retrospect I have a tendency to just be lazy, I didn't probably need that break. I tried to 'hike' thinking of Western States and the need to be a good hiker, but my watch said over 16 minute pace and I felt strong enough to run so I just went back to running deciding to save practicing hiking for another day. I did take another two short walk breaks but I think the hill was actually easier than I found it last year. I had run slower to get to the climb than last year's race so maybe that plays a part in it but I found it to have more flattish sections than I recalled from the year before. Then finally I saw a female up ahead. Thinking she was the first runner I had seen in miles, I set my sights on her. Then up ahead I saw another figure, I could have sworn their running posture was incredibly familiar. I thought it was my husband Todd.

I picked up the pace but the runner I thought was Todd disappeared on a slightly downhill section, I couldn't decide if this further suggested it was Todd who runs well downhill or if I was possibly just dreaming his presence pulling me ahead. I ran harder to try and find out. The aid station that represents the top of the climb and begins the descent to the finish appeared and I became more certain that the runner ahead was Todd, his form is uniquely his own. I ran harder in the hopes that we could push each other towards the finish. Whenever I come across Todd in a race it is the same way, I offer to help push each other along and he barely speaks to me, just pushes me on ahead. I tried to give him ibuprofen at the aid station but he just told me to chase down the girl who had left the aid station just as we were arriving.

Deciding not to argue I ran on ahead even though he is usually a much better downhill runner than I am. Not long after beginning the decent my stomach started to bother me. I began to slow and then my body told me to find a tree or else. I listened and climbed into the woods watching as Todd passed by. Having no toilet paper I managed the best that I could and climbed out of the woods in the hopes of still chasing them down if my stomach would cooperate. I was a little worried as it was in this section last year that my race literally fell apart with debilitating cramps all the way to the finish line. I had continued to have little sizzling cramps all day and was worried these were a sign of worse to come. I caught back up with Todd who encouraged that I pass him again and chase down the runner ahead. I figured I was fifth at best, knowing Dacia, Courtney and Sarah were still ahead of me and the female runner directly ahead. I caught up with Shelby, ran behind her for a moment, she didn't really seem to want me to pass her, which is completely understandable on downhill technical trail at 20+ miles in to a marathon. But I had found a little bit of that racing competitiveness in myself and thought I would use it while I had it.

Once I was ahead of Shelby I wondered how far ahead Courtney and Sarah were, I decided to pick up the pace in the hopes that I could at least decrease the time between us. I took two more salt pills hoping that would keep cramps at bay. Running along the fireroad I thought I saw Sarah up ahead. I was starting to get a little tired but I held on hoping I could catch Sarah. Over a little hill I caught a runner, a female from the 25k, and wondered if I really had seen Sarah at all. Then coming up to the final aid station I was sure it was Sarah ahead. I stopped at the aid station trying to wolf down a GU and drink a little water before I went out to chase. I was watching Sarah pull ahead and choking on the cup of water and I got excited. Seriously all day had been kind of a bummer and seeing Sarah up ahead made it feel like the race that it was. I had been looking for Sarah and Courtney all day after I had passed Lauren but had decided after the climb there was probably no chance in running either of them down.

I took off on the asphalt and it was a quick minute before I could even see Sarah again. She was running STRONG! I don't know if she had seen me when she was at the aid station but she was burning the road up. I was running hard and loving every second of it. She turned and looked at me and I swear she picked it up even more, I looked down and we were running a 7:10 at over 25 miles into the marathon. I was so thankful that she was there, I knew I wouldn't have pushed like this if she wasn't. Then I had a moment where I questioned chasing her down, but I'll be honest, I thought I might still have a chance of a top 3 finish, I thought I should give it my all if that was still a possibility. Turning on to the trail I got even more excited, I don't know where Sarah trains, but I know where I train and that is mostly on trails, I thought I had a better chance of chasing her down on trails then on roads which are not my strong suit. At the same time I knew we were extremely close to the finish line. She fought hard to the finish, and I passed her less than thirty seconds out from the finish line. I finished in 4:17 with her right behind me. Then I realized we were 5th and 6th female and I kind of felt like a jerk. Todd had to keep reminding me over the evening that it was a race and Sarah wouldn't have hard feelings. I think a little of me felt like I needed that finish but then afterwards it didn't give me any satisfaction.

In the end it was an alright day. I think I made a pivotal error by not filling my bottle up at that first aid station. But between the cramps and stomach trouble I still had a day that wasn't all that bad. Todd and I had made plans to run again that afternoon. After about an hour of socializing with our fellow Mountain Junkies we headed to Lynchburg to finish up our double. I had taken my wet shoes off at the race and had discovered a handful of blisters on my feet, probably from being dehydrated and that made for a painful shoe change as we went back out for more trails.

Other than painful feet the start of the second run went better than I had expected. But then storms moved in on us which was honestly less than fun. And then my stomach went south. Like worse than Hellgate last December. I was stopping every five minutes and running, especially downhill, was murder. I had an awesome, supportive group out there in the rain with me, encouraging me to keep moving no matter how slow. I really wish that I could bring them to Western States with me. I know I would have called the run after the first half hour of stomach trouble. Unfortunately, the stomach trouble plagued me for the entire second run which was over three hours and was definitely short of my 50 mile goal for the day. My highly supportive friends who suffered through many stops and two storms would have gone on but I decided that my legs would easily carry me the extra mileage but that the stomach wasn't really making the suffering through the thunderstorm of any real benefit. I felt confident that I could keep moving physically but that the stomach was through for the day. We still managed about 40 for the day and this way I might be able to run by Tuesday.

This morning I feel fine. Still have a few painful blisters and my back is chaffed uncomfortably but I could run on those today if I had to run. My legs feel pretty good for their effort yesterday. Overall, I'm content and sometimes that's as good as it gets.