Congrats to everyone who raced Boston on Monday! Despite what you may have seen on social media this past weekend, there were other races happening as well and Dan and I, along with plenty of NP members from DC and beyond, took on the North Face Endurance Challenge DC (ECSDC) at Algonkian Regional Park.
I decided on ECSDC 50k as my goal race for the spring. After ECSCA 50k, I knew I was ready for another. Having a friend, Katherine, to visit in the city and a sweet deal from BG and Bojan for entry made this an easy choice for us.
We got to DC on Thursday night, had a great day on Friday, but when it came to the race, I just felt flat. The night before, I was going to sleep trying to feel at least SOMETHING about the race the next morning, but I wasn’t really excited and I wasn’t really nervous. My alarm went off to wake me up out of a deep sleep and my first thought was “what day is it? why am I waking up?’ which I don’t think is really how you’re supposed to feel going into a goal race.
Dan and I got our stuff together and headed out to the shuttle which was easy peasy (great job, ECS!). We did all the normal pre-race things and then found Addie and Kaelan from NP_DC who were also running the 50k. All of a sudden, we were off and I still didn’t really feel anything about it.
I’m sure that about 98% of racers on Saturday would report that they started out way too fast – the first miles were flat and I took off like I was running a road race, at around an 8:20 pace. Because of the advantage of being at sea level, paces felt pretty easy cardio wise, but it was already at mile 6, when I felt some tiredness in my quads, that I knew it would be a long day. I made it through the first couple of aid stations in 3rd place with another woman right behind me.
Let me explain the course a little bit. There are basically three sections – the out, the loop, the back. It’s a “lollipop” course which meant that the first 13-ish miles were the same as the last 13-ish and we had a 5-ish mile loop at Great Falls in the middle. This 50k had about 3,300 feet of elevation gain. It seemed that most of that came from a handful of really steep, short climbs rather than long uphills. For me, those climbs were not at all runnable and the steep descents had me braking rather than flying down. In between these hills, the trail was generally flat. I know I sound like a snob by saying this, but I wanted more hills! Training in the mountains in Colorado sets you up to be able to handle both ups and downs and I appreciate that type of terrain to give my muscles different things to do. One of the reasons I’ve discovered that trail running is so much better and easier for my body is that the constantly varying terrain never allows one muscle group to get too tired from repetitive motion that comes with flatter road running. The elevation profile during the loop did vary which I appreciated. The 50 milers ran the same course but repeated the loop a few more times, so we were all in there running it together. It was nice to have the distractions of other people and more interesting terrain, but I was so ready to get out of there as I knew that all I would have left once I did was the journey back to the finish.
I really look forward to the aid stations and use them to break the course up for me. I passed up a water stop about 2 miles in and then made my first stop for some Clif shot blocks and to refill my bottle at the 5.6mi aid station. I came into the 8.3mi aid station in the middle of a small pack of runners but left the aid station as the leader. The woman who had been behind me for the last few miles stopped and waited for me to take the lead and then tucked in. Because of this, I felt like I was doing all the work setting the pace and ran way too fast. Hearing someone right on my heels is one of my pet peeves on the trails and it totally quickened my pace (while just straight up annoying me!). Finally, when we got to a wider section, I slowed tremendously so she would get the hint and pass me. Off she went and I slowed down to the pace I should have been running the whole time. I didn’t see her again for miles (foreshadowing…). I went into the aid station that started you on the loop (mile 13.2) feeling pretty tired but was looking forward to watching for Katherine spectating and was hoping I’d catch Dan on the course.
During an out-and-back section of the loop, I saw the three women ahead of me pass and they all looked great. I couldn’t tell exactly how far ahead of me they were, but I knew I wouldn’t be catching up to the first two. I also saw Kaelan and Addie as they were the two next women behind me. They both looked awesome and I loved the smiles and yells. When I was finally coming out of the loop, Katherine found me and ran with me for a few miles. It was so nice to have a familiar face and get to talk to her a little bit about how I was feeling, which was tired. After a few miles, I let her go so that she could drive to the finish line and I continued to trudge along. I was moving pretty slowly but just focused on putting one foot in front of the other feeling pretty confident that I was going to end the day in 4th place.
As I came up to the 8.3mi aid station which was now mile 22-ish of the race, my legs were hurting and I was feeling a little sick to my stomach. I heard some runners talking about the trailer there that could take DNF runners back to the start. I legitimately thought about getting on it because I just had no desire to continue to run. I reassessed, though, and knew I would be upset if I did that so I committed to continuing. As I was leaving the aid station, I saw the third place woman still standing there, much to my surprise. So, now I had regained the lead against her and that put a little pep in my step. We only had 8-ish miles with two aid stations left to go and I really wanted to hold on but I also still wasn’t feeling great. I decided before making my final push to the end I needed to do a couple things: eat more; stop for the bathroom. I did make a stop at a bush and during that time, the woman passed me again. I was deflated for about a mile, but within a few minutes of the aid station, I noticed that I was gaining on her. I took a salt tab and forced down some shot blocks and ended up going into the 5.3mi aid station right behind her. After getting some water poured on my head by a volunteer and drinking a cup of Coke, I left before the other woman, and was absolutely determined that she would not pass me again. It was at this point that I felt like the race really began for me. I ran some of my strongest miles starting around 26 miles into the race.
When we finally got onto the gravel road signifying only a couple miles to go, I felt like I was flying. There was a stream of relay runners coming at us, many of them wearing grassroots gear. I was calling out “yeah, NP!” and feeling good for one of the first times all day. Who waits until this point to feel good in a 50k?! Finally, I made the second-to-last turn and heard the finish line area. Then I turned basically into the chute and saw Dan and Katherine and all of the NP gang and it was one of my very favorite race finishes I’ve had as I stormed in to their cheers. Physically, I felt pretty good at the end and was really happy to end up in 3rd.
Here are a few takeaways from the whole experience:
- I remember thinking at some point along the course, ‘I don’t feel particularly bad but I don’t feel particularly good.’ That was the theme of the day for me. During my 50k at ECSCA and during the Salida Trail Marathon, there were times when I could have sworn I was riding through the trails on a unicorn. I just had those amazing, magical days when things clicked. But for this race, nothing ever clicked and I was still able to hold on and get it done. I’ve decided that it was almost businesslike – I was doing the work without too much emotion. That’s not really how I like to race so while I’m proud of powering through, I’m still a little disappointed.
- With all that being said above, I realized that I still have a lot of potential with this whole ultra thing. My goals for the race were to: place and/or run under 5-hours. I came in at 5:08 and while I honestly didn’t even care about my time at the finish, I know that on a good day, I could have run under 5. Unlike with my past experience with road racing when times mean a lot more, I’m not discouraged by missing my time goal by 8 minutes but just more excited to get out there and race again.
- I need to actually practice fueling. It’s something I never worry about on training runs and while I didn’t have any disasters with my fueling, I know that if I dialed it in, it would only make me stronger. I started with a bottle of Tailwind – that part of the plan is an A+ and I don’t foresee changing it. Throughout the race, I filled my bottle with water and ate about 2 packets of Clif shot blocks as well as a few orange slices and a couple chips. For the first time, I took salt tabs which I think really saved my nutrition game. I took 3 throughout the race (about 1 an hour) and I could actually feel myself gain energy after taking them.
- Running with a partner/team is what makes it all worthwhile. I was alone for about 5 hours when I wasn’t loving racing. But then I showed up to the end and my people, Dan and Katherine, were there plus a horde of NP racers for the relay. Even though I had never met most of them, they all screamed and cheered for my grassroots gear and it was really special and a defining moment for me in my NP “career.” After 5+ hours of racing, you sometimes need that reminder that you’re part of something bigger. Also, Dan and I always feel like we show up to races as a team and I think this is the first time we’ve been on the podium together so that was a big win for us! Having someone to share the success with makes it that much sweeter.