This past Saturday I returned to Fabius, New York to run Highland Forest 1, 2, 3 for my second time. The race is a 10 mile trail loop that you can run 1, 2, or 3 times, hence the name. Last year we had a very rainy May with a strong storm blowing through the night before the race, so the trail was a mess. The mud was more than ankle deep over much of the course with water flowing down the trail in a number of places. This May has been pretty dry in Upstate NY, so I was reasonably sure the trail would be much more runnable. The weather, on the other hand, was looking a bit ominous, only getting down to 70 overnight and topping out in the mid 80s. Hot weather definitely slows me down and can make a run a lot less enjoyable. Oh well, nothing I can do about the weather other than make sure I go into the race well hydrated with decent electrolytes.
The weekend before the race I was signed up to run the Cleveland Marathon, but the weather was going to be in the 80s, so I opted for running a local 10k instead. I ran only a little slower than my PR, so it was a good strong effort. I got in 10 miles for the day including warm up and cool down. Monday I did 30 minutes of stair climbing and a 1 hour strength class. Tuesday I ran 10 miles at a comfortable pace including a few hills. Wednesday I went out for 1 hour of power walking, a little over 5 miles. Thursday was a rest day, then Friday I ran a short depletion run to help with my carb loading for the race. All I still needed to take care of was to pack my bin of race supplies and try to get a good night sleep.
5:15 race morning I was wide awake, so I got up and started my race prep. 32 ounces of Ultra Fuel to drink, man does that taste bad, and that is a lot of liquid in my belly, but it gave me 700 calories of easily digested carb to start my day. I set out a little before 5:45 and arrived right around 7:30. I got my bib, set up my chair, grabbed a couple things out of my bin for my last minute prep: body glide, sun block, bug spray, contacts, garmin, road id, race belt to hold my bib.
There were a lot more people at the race this year. I figure part of that was due to the nicer weather. It is hard to size up the competition at an event like this, where everyone starts together then chooses how far they will run. I didn't see the lady who had won last year, but that didn't mean that she definitely wasn't there, sometimes I miss things... For me running ultras isn't all about how I place, I really do enjoy being out there testing what my body is capable of, but since I have done well in the Western NY Ultra Series in the past, placement does come into it.
One thing that I try to focus on as I start an ultra is pacing. I started out near the middle of the pack, not worrying about who was ahead or behind for the moment. I know that if I want to run my best I need to run my own race for at least the first 2/3s, after that maybe I can start worrying about where others are. Very shortly after the start we got into single track running. A gully slowed the line of people to a walk, but then it opened up again some. The terrain rolls a lot on this course with few flat areas. When we hit a long climb, it was easy to tell who was only intending to run 1 lap. Those of us in it for the long haul walked or power hiked the climb.
The other big thing is nutrition/ hydration. I carried a 20 ounce hand held water bottle with a gel and some shot blocks tucked into it. The first of 3 on course aid stations is about 1.9 miles into the loop. There were plenty of cups of water and sports drink, but I bypass them since I am carrying what I need. Shortly after that we hit a really rooty section of the trail where you had to pick your footing very carefully. Even with the dry May, there were still a number of places where it is very hard to avoid the mud. I had my gel a little before halfway through the loop.
For a couple miles in the middle of the loop, I settled in with another woman. We passed through the second aid station a little over midway through the loop. She had just run a 50 miler the week before so was planning on taking the first couple of loops easy. She had run seven 50 milers before and had broken 8 hours in some of them. That was a bit intimidating, I have only run one 50 miler and wasn't much under 10 hours... She was so smooth and effortless through challenging footing and quick on the down hills. On the climb leading to mile 7 I pulled away from her as I was power hiking.
Once you get 7 miles into the loop, I think the trail gets a bit easier. I ran with a guy from the Syracuse area for a little while, he had done 17 hours of hiking the previous weekend. There was a downhill leading to a creek then another decent climb. Not too long after that we get to the third aid station. I remember from last year that there is less than 1 mile left in the loop from that point and it is pretty easy running. We passed and I greeted a family out for a walk with a couple dogs. I made sure to finish the shot blocks before the end of the loop. A little farther along one of the other runners, who was finished after one lap, was cheering us on telling us only 1/4 mile to the end. "And then 2 more laps" is my response.
As I finished the lap I traded out my empty bottle for the full bottle that had more shot blocks and another gel packed into it. One cup of sports drink and I headed out for my second loop. At the first aid station I caught up to another guy. The people working the aid station ask us how it is going as we drink some sports drink. The guy said not too well. He followed me out of the aid station. I warned him that I wouldn't be too quick through the rooty section, to which he responded that he probably should slow down anyway. A little farther along, a friend of his caught up to us. We had different paces on the climb, so we went our separate ways. About 3.5 miles into the loop I had my second gel.
At the second aid station I needed to refill my bottle, it had warmed up some so I was drinking more. Mark, the guy I wad run much of the race with last year, was just heading out from the aid station with another guy. I decided to try to keep up with them for a bit. It was a bit of work, but nice to have company for a few miles. We passed the family with the 2 dogs again, so I greeted them again. Mark's friend stumbled in one of the muddy sections but was able to wash off at one of the stream crossings. On the hard climb leading to mile 7 I pulled away from them. It was a beautiful day, and I really enjoyed being out for a nice long run. I had my shot blocks before the end of the lap.
At the end of the second lap they asked if I was finished. When I responded that I was continuing, someone said I looked as fresh as a daisy, to which I responded "Don't come too close, I son't smell as fresh as a daisy." I refilled my bottle and grabbed some garotaid blocks to go along with the gel I had picked up from one of the aid stations. I asked if there were any other women already out on their 3rd loop and was told no. So I knew there wasn't anyone I needed to catch, but I thought that other lady might still catch me.
Off I went, trying to maintain a good pace. Down across the first creek and up the other side. Hey, there is the family again, I greet them for the final time. The mother exclaimed that what I was doing was fantastic. Then there was a big climb, it was much harder work to power hike it that time. At the first aid station I grabbed another cup of sports drink and continued on. As I went through the rooty section I had to be a little more careful because my feet were threatening to cramp. More climbs, more descents, I keep pushing on. At the second aid station I paused to refill my bottle again. As I drank a cup of sports drink, I heard someone say hi and run on through. It was the lady who had run a 50 last week and she looked perky. The drive and desire to follow her and fight for the lead just wasn't there. I only wanted to not let her get more than 5 minutes ahead of me.
I worked my way up the tough climb to mile 7 glad that I wouldn't have to do that again. I couldn't see that lady anywhere ahead of me but kept pushing. I picked my way carefully through some of the muddy parts trying to avoid foot cramps, then started running again. I knew I was moving a little slower this loop, but I also knew that I could still possibly make it in 30 minutes faster than last year. On the last big climb I caught up to another man. "We can do it." I said. He responded that his quads had never rebelled this much before. Once we reached the top of the hill, I pushed on to try to reach my goal if possible. On the uneven footing my right foot rolled in and I could feel one blister really sharply, I just needed to push on even though it hurt. Once I got past the third aid station I picked up the pace. Out of the woods for the final time, just one little climb up the driveway. The clock was in sight, I could make it. Final push to a strong finish.
It was nice to be done. Man was I warm. Fortunately there was a hose available to wash off the mud and cool off. When I took my shoes off, I found one popped blister on the outside of my right big toe. That was the only blister, so my feet were so much better off than they had been after BPAC. My legs were tired, but not too sore, so second guessing started to set in. Maybe I could have kept up with the other woman, maybe I could have been faster on the third lap... But still I was very happy to have finished over 30 minutes faster than last year with much more even splits. Here are my stats: 5th place overall of 19 30 mile finishers, lap 1 1:40:31, lap 2 1:44:59 for a cumulative 3:25:30, lap 3 1:49:03 for a finish time of 5:14:32. 32 people ran 20 miles, 82 people ran 10 miles.