I've been looking forward to October since the end of the July. Yes, I know, summer is awesome and I should enjoy it. This year though, I knew October would bring running races and I've been itching to run race for months. That said, signing up for my first ultra in over a year only 2 weeks after Marji Gesick seemed like a good idea. At least, it seemed like a good idea until I realized I hadn't really run much with all the mountain biking I was doing.
So, I showed up for the Night Owl Shuffle 6 Hour race wondering if I might actually end up doing some shuffling. My main goal going into the race was to run 30 miles in the 6 hours. Of course, I won't lie, I was hoping for a win too. Ya, I know I'm old, but there's still a 17 year old who loves winning trapped in this old body.
Timed races work like this- whoever runs the most wins. Normally there's a loop of a certain distance and whoever completes it the most times under the cut-off is the winner. This race had an added twist. There was a main 3.35 mile loop as well as a 1 mile out-and-back. We were allowed to run either whenever we chose, as well as being allowed to run the 3.35 loop backwards. Basically, what this means is, you have no idea where you are in comparison to your competition so, if you want to win, you better be running as hard as you can.
Thankfully, we all at least started out on the main 3.35 mile loop so we could assess our places early on. I settled in to 5th, knowing my old bones can't handle the faster early pace like they used to. I ran the next couple laps hoping people would slow down and come back to me. No one did. I could only hope they'd jumped into the one mile loop and were running slower there.
I stuck to the longer loop for 5 laps, not wanting to deal with the monotony of 1 mile laps yet. By the end of that lap though, I was past the longest I'd run in over a year and feeling a little tired. As I finished the lap, I entered the one mile loop for a scouting lap to see if it might be a bit easier and I might find some of the girls ahead of me in there. The hills were at least a little mellower, but no luck passing anyone. Since I still had 2 1/2 hours left to run, I headed back out for another big lap. Halfway through, I started to melt down. I'd been on pace up until then to get my 30 miles, but it quickly started to slip away as I slowed to 15 minute miles. I was pretty much the walking dead.
I started to panic. Then I felt a little sorry for myself. Then I got over it.
I remembered hearing that the great ultra runner Ann Trason once said good ultra runners were good problem solvers. So I decided to problem solve. First up, I needed to figure out what was wrong. I was hungry. My legs hurt. A lot. Second, I needed to find a solution to those problems. I needed to eat and I needed to avoid the pounding on the downhills. Third, I need to act. So, I headed for the one mile loop where the downhills were all grassy and not as steep. Then, I ate. I knew too much food would be risky for my stomach, but I figured I was already walking so how much would it hurt? I downed an entire package of pepperoni in seconds. Damn, it tasted good.
To my surprise, I was running again within a mile. The first one was slow, but the next one I was back in the 11s. A few miles later, I was in the 10s and back on track to hit my 30 miles if I could hold the pace. Of course, there was still over an hour of running left and I still had no idea where my competition was. I could only hope they'd enter the one mile loop soon.
I got my wish. Shortly after, one of the girls ahead of me appeared coming the other way. I did some quick math and figured if she'd run as many laps of the big loop as I thought she had, I'd need to pass her. I got to work. A lap later, I found myself coming up behind her. I remembered a story I'd heard an ultra runner once tell about passing another girl at mile 90 something in a 100 mile race. She said that when she passed her, she wanted to be going so fast it would "crush her soul" so she wouldn't try to keep up. I decided now was a good time to start crushing souls and picked up my pace.
One down. Three to go.
Shortly after, two more of the girls ahead of me entered the one mile loop. I set out to crush more souls. I passed the second of them with only about 15 minutes to go. I knew I needed to stay ahead. As I neared the finish of that lap, I realized I had my 30 miles, but I also realized I just might be able to get one more lap in under the time. I came in with about 12 minutes to spare, saw my friend Dana cheering at the turn around, and knew I needed to go for it. I knew I'd been running under 12 minute pace for miles, but I didn't want to leave anything to chance. If I was gonna run this damn lap, it better count. I pushed the pace. 10 1/2 minutes later I came in with 31.1 miles.
All that was left was to wait for results. I'd passed three of the four girls ahead of me, but the fourth was nowhere around. I'd seen her exiting the one mile loop as I'd entered it 10 miles earlier but not since. Since my favorite way to pass time while running is to do math in my head, I'd calculated the many ways this could work out. I knew that if she'd stuck to 3.35 mile loops and kept a decent pace while I ran 10 one mile loops she could rack up just a bit more distance than I.
When it came time for awards, that's exactly what we found out happened. After 6 hours of running, she beat me by a whopping .05 miles. that's right 5/100's of a mile. Damn, that hurt. But at least I won the masters (a.k.a little old lady) division. And I figured out how to revive myself from the dead with pepperoni. That's a plus.