Well, it happened. Six and a half months after starting to run again, I made it through my first long distance event.
When setting my race schedule for the year, I had two major principles to keep in mind: 1) not to overdo it and 2) not to care about my times. This year would be the year of “just finish.” I will admit that mentally, that has been hard for me. It’s tough to see times 5-10 minutes slower than I’m used to. But it’s also important to remember that I basically started from square one again back in November. This post from Amelia Boone has also been very helpful. It’s definitely required reading for anyone coming back from long-term injury.
So, the race itself was the Pilot Hill 25k Classic. This is the longest standing footrace in the state of Wyoming, which is reason enough to run it – it’s fun to say you participated in a little piece of history. It’s also, without a doubt, the toughest race I’ve ever run. You climb to the top of Pilot Hill then descend back into Laramie, which figures out to a net 3200 or so elevation change. However, a lot of my training focused on uphill-downhill out and backs, so I hoped I would be relatively okay. Plus, call me a masochist, but I absolutely love climbing.
The race could not have been held on a more perfect day. Sunny with starting temps in the mid 50s. As soon as the gun went off, it was clear to me that I was settling into the back of the pack, and I was totally fine with it. I’m not going to try and chase down professional and semi-professional athletes from Colorado. I was just there to have a good time. For the first hour or so, however, I did not feel like I was having a good time. The course had a ton of sandy dirt on it, my least favorite surface to run on, and it felt like I was trying to push through mud. I was mentally cursing myself – I must not have tapered enough, I must not have trained enough, etc. Then I remembered that I was essentially running straight uphill, no matter how gradual it might seem. And I was still going! For the first hour or so, it was just running.
However, running in direct sunlight with no wind is bound to take a toll, even if it isn’t terribly hot. By the time I started the last three miles of the climb, i.e. the Real Climb, my stomach was beginning to have issues. This isn’t unusual for me – I’ve had stomach trouble totally wreck races before – but I troubleshot better than I ever had before. I mentally gave myself permission to let go a little bit, to slow down my climbing until I felt like I had things under control and there was no risk of vomiting. And it worked! Plus, I can’t be too sad when there’s that much climbing involved.
I allowed myself one time goal for the day – to make it up the hill in under two hours. And I smashed that by twelve minutes. I was absolutely thrilled. I said hello to the costumed folks up top, grabbed a handful of pretzels, and began making my way back down the hill.
The flip side to my love of ascending is my hatred of descending. Before my knee injury, I was a fantastic descender. I still didn’t enjoy it, but I could scream down hills like it was a cakewalk. However, when you have to rehab an atrophied quad, it turns out that your ability to descend becomes pretty much shot. So even though I was going much faster overall, by the time I hit the last aid station with 3k to go, my legs were done. I had two major stumbles on the way down (one of which resulted in me losing my glasses for a bit), and between that, the stomach jostling, and the hamstring exhaustion, I was reduced to hiking a lot more than I would have hoped. But still, hiking the course is being out on the course. If I do this race again, I’ll be doing some downhill specific training for sure.
Even though I’ve committed myself to not focusing on my times, I can’t help but be thrilled with my finish, which was only 12 minutes off my 25k PR. And on a harder course to boot! The time only matters in that it shows how far my fitness has come. A year ago, even going down stairs was impossible. To go from nothing to 25k in a little over six months is truly awesome. I’m excited to see where things go from here.
I’ve got two more goal races coming up this year – the Ultra Santa Fe Half and the Blue Sky Trail Marathon. Ultra Santa Fe is run at 10,000+ feet, so it’s time to get out in the Snowies and start working! Happy running, friends.