“Today might not be a unicorn day, but it’s a good day.” I said to Robyn around mile 7. Robyn and I did most of our training together and talked extensively about our “race plan.” We wanted to start out slow, stay together, and then start to pick it up around mile 20. The night before the race, we texted each other that “it just wasn’t my day” couldn’t be an excuse – we would make it our day, regardless! She is one of the strongest and smartest racers I know, so having her with me felt like such a huge advantage.
In the first couple miles of the race, I watched as Laura and Ashleigh, Angelo, BG, and Capozzi, all wicked fast NP leaders, took off ahead of us. Robyn and I agreed that we wanted them in front and we purposely didn’t try to keep up. We both had recently listened to the UltraRunner Podcast episode with Tim Tollefson in which he recounts his UTMB experience. He articulated well that many times we say that we’ll start off slow, knowing in our heads that we probably won’t. But at UTMB, he truly did start off slow, kept his ego in check, walked when others were running, and demonstrated emotional maturity. He ended up coming in third place overall. That was huge inspiration for us!
I broke the race down into climbs. There were six big climbs and during the second one (about miles 6 – 7.5) is when I realized my legs didn’t feel that great. I didn’t feel as light and easy as normal. My legs felt heavy and even downhills felt like work. Neither one of us wanted to bring the other down, but we both admitted that we were worried about how we felt so early in the race. I used a lot of mental tricks during this race, because saying something out loud (even if it doesn’t feel true at the moment) really helps me shift my perspective. At one point, I said, “What we’re lacking in our legs, we’ll make up for with our minds” and I actually believed that. Though I felt sluggish, I kept telling myself that we were okay, I felt fine, and I even tricked myself by repeating “aww yeah” out loud as we were climbing. We got through the first two climbs and the first two aid stations and I wasn’t expecting much, but just kept moving slow and steady.
Miles 9.3 – 14.5
And then, as we were climbing up Cardiac, everything changed for me. For those that don’t know, Cardiac is the longest climb of the day, but the grade of it is more manageable. Something about this climb completely energized me. We got into a “train” of other runners and spent the entire four miles together. The pace was consistent, and the energy was good as we chit-chatted and exclaimed “this is fun” to each other. Over and over, I thought about passing the guy in front of me who was leading the train but stopped myself and stayed right behind him. We got to the top of Cardiac at mile 14.5 and I felt like I had recovered from the first 10 miles of fire roads in the race and was ready to run now.
Miles 14.6 – 20.3
We took a brief stop at the Cardiac aid station to fill up and grab some snacks and then we were off into Muir Woods. When I ran this race two years ago, the course was altered due to mud. So this section was all new to me. I felt drunk on my newfound energy, the smell of the redwoods, and probably some Coke. I started bombing down the trails, chatting to the girl in front of me (Hi, Alice) with Robyn right behind me. At some point, Robyn twisted her ankle on the rooty trails and had to slow to shake it out, but by the time I realized, there were people between us. I considered stopping. This wasn’t part of our plan to leave each other. But I knew she would want me to keep running, so I did, hoping to see her again soon. The trail through Muir Woods was incredible. There were roots to jump over and branches to duck under, a bridge to cross. I tried to take it all in, but I was moving pretty well at this point, so I made a note to myself to come back sometime when I could appreciate it more.
After we reached the lowest point of the woods, we had to climb our way out. This was the hardest section of the race for me because I didn’t know what to expect, I was mostly alone, and stairs, damnit. I went from the high of bombing down into the woods to the low of having to work our way out. Though this was hard, physically, I was still feeling strong mentally. It was during this section that Megan Kimmel, who was first place woman in the 50 mile at the time, passed me and I fan-girled her, as I do. Then I watched as the eventual winner, Ida Nilsson, passed Megan. This was exciting because I was hoping to have some idea of what was going on during the 50 mile race! I thought that Dan might be nearby but I assumed he was already in front of me and I wouldn’t catch him or see him.
The stretch between the Cardiac aid station and the Old Inn aid station is the longest on the course. Just as I saw people and thought I was to the next aid, they let me know that there was still a mile to go. My bottle was about drained at this point, but I had been fueling and hydrating so steadily that it wasn’t an issue. It was right before the Old Inn station that I passed BG, November Project co-founder. It had been a while since I had lost Robyn so I was really excited to see a familiar face!
Miles 20.4 – 26.1
I refilled at Old Inn and then we entered into a flat section of running – what?! It’s so rare to not be going up or down in this race. I’ve said before that my downfall at trail running is flat. On uphills, I can hike and I’m normally pretty strong on downhills, but on flat sections when I’m not “allowed” to hike, I sometimes fall apart. During this section, though, I felt like I was just out on an easy run through the neighborhood; I felt strong and smooth. I came up to November Project San Francisco co-leader, Zip. Again, it was great to see a familiar face and have someone to chat with for a few minutes.
Then we got to the hardest climb of the day, out of Muir Beach. This section of the course is gnarly, but I knew what to expect and just wanted to keep moving. I was having fun on the climb, alternating from power hiking to very slow hiking to running short sections at a time. There’s always a race photographer out there capturing moments when it looks like you are literally standing still. I actually passed quite a few people in this section, including NP San Diego co-leader, Angelo. Angelo, thanks for the encouragement! It was so great to see you out there. I also had my eyes peeled on the marathon runners coming toward us, hoping I’d see my friend Woody. I got to the top of the climb and knew the hardest work of the day was over and I was still feeling good!
After the big climb is a biiig descent. I love downhills, but this one is steep enough that it isn’t exactly easy. I wasn’t collecting any Strava trophies, but I was moving pretty well. I came up on Capozzi, co-leader of NP Boston, and shared the memory of when I saw him out on the course two years ago and he reminded me to be present. As I was descending down toward the Tennessee Valley aid station, I got really excited knowing that I would have friends there cheering. And then I saw Laura, co-leader of NP San Francisco, in front of me. Laura and I had never actually met before that weekend, but we had a friendly Strava-stalking relationship. I knew that she was super fast and had been training really hard on these trails. So, catching up to her in the last bit of a race was a huge motivator for me. I had my eye on her as we were running the road into the aid station and she had no idea I was there until Molly, friend and NP Denver co-leader, spotted me and started cheering.
The Tennesee Valley aid station was one of my favorites in my life, maybe. There was a crew of NPers yelling and cheering, with my pal Nina in full-on paparazzi mode. I grabbed a pinch of salt and a drink of Coke and filled my bottle with water. With a pat of Laura’s butt, I was out of there up the final hill of the day.
Miles 26.2 – End
As I left the aid station, the 50 miler next to me asked, “are you winning the 50k?” That’s how good the cheering was. I was not winning, but felt like it. I could practically smell the finish line at this point even though 5 miles is still a long way to go. I cruised up to the Alta aid station, took a quick refill of Tailwind, and then it was just down to the finish.
Miles 30 and 31 were two of my fastest of the day, 7:21 and 7:23 respectively. Honestly, I could have gone faster but didn’t feel like I needed to. I was just soaking in the end of the race, not actually really caring about the time on the clock when I finished. I felt like I had accomplished what I set out to do and I would rather not kill myself so that I could cruise in feeling strong with a big smile on my face. As people were walking near the end, I had lots of encouraging words – “Let’s go! Finish this thing.”
And then finally, we were on the last little section and I could hear the finish line and all the NP voices cheering. And then I saw my buddies, Molly and Chad, and was shocked that Molly had gotten there after just being at the Tenn Valley aid station. Molly let me know that Dan was behind me, which was the first time I realized he wouldn’t be at the finish line when I would. They ran me in and I loved having them with me!
Immediately after finishing, I felt great. I still had energy which made me think for a brief moment that maybe I should run a 50 miler. I’m over that now. I grabbed some snacks then made my way back up the finishing stretch to see Dan come in just a couple minutes later. And then the same with Robyn, just a little bit after that.
What an incredible day! The weather was perfect, the energy was amazing, and for one of the first times ever, I actually met all of my racing goals. I know this wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t run the first 15 miles out with Robyn. I feel like I had a breakthrough in this race. Physically, I knew I was prepared but it was my mental strength that actually carried me through. Onto the next one!
- According to Strava: 31.8 miles with 6,268 feet of climbing
- Official time: 5:15
- 7th Female, 2nd in age group
- Shoes: Nike Trail Kiger 2.0 (I got a pair of the 3.0 and returned them for the beloved older model)
- Fuel: Approximately 1,000 calories during the race. I started with 200 calories of Tailwind in my bottle then alternated refilling it with water and Tailwind every other aid station. I had 11 Clif Shot Bloks (I meant to eat 12 but I dropped one), and 2 small cups of Coke. I never had even a second of stomach distress. Thank you, Tailwind! I love this product.