Monday, March 17, 2014

Instant Clasic Trail Marathon-Training Run for Bull Run-Marathon #5

The Instant Classic Trail Marathon (don't ask me about the name...there's no good explanation for it) in Pochantas State Park just south of Richmond was originally supposed to be my goal spring marathon.  All of the proceeds from this race went to Fisher House, and we had 5 shadow runners in Afghanistan so that was neat.  I had been wanting to do a trail marathon, and this one looked like a convenient choice.  Since I got into Bull Run 50, the marathon became just another training run.  So I didn't taper at all and was coming in with 4 straight 40+ mile weeks and 24 miles on the legs in marathon week.  This was going to be a real test to see how my legs would hold up.

We left on Friday afternoon to head down for packet pick up.  Packet pick up was at Lucky Foot in Midlothian and was super easy and convenient.  Then we checked into the hotel.  While JD was down in the hotel gym getting a work out in, I discovered that our shower was not working in the room.  The front desk was awesome and very helpful.  The clerk got us a new room right away, helped move our stuff, and gave us a late check out once I explained that I was doing a marathon the next day.  So thanks to the Hampton Inn Richmond Southwest Hull Street for excellent customer service!  The hotel shared a parking lot with a Ruby Tuesdays...normally not my choice for pre race dinner, but we didn't feel like getting back in the car.  I went with chicken, veggies, and baked potato since all of the pasta options had cream sauce, and I wasn't going to mess with that pre-race.

Laid out the flat mama
Shirt by runprettyfar
and got a little foot rub from my crew so I was ready to sleep.

Wake up time was 5 am the next morning.  I had my usual pre-race breakfast of peanut butter and raisin bread.  I added a banana this time as well (suggested by my coaches to help with quad cramping issues that I've been having at the end of marathon length runs).

We got to the park around 6:45 and had no problems parking. There was a huge porta potty line (4 toilets for about 350 runners) at 7:30.  The half marathon about 250 runners started at 7:45 so I ended up letting a lot of halfers cut in front of me so they could make their start.  Once the halfers were gone, it was easy for any full marathoners to do their business before the 8 am start.  So I rate the porta potty situation a B-.  They probably could have used a couple more.  I met up with some Moms Run This Town friends and then got lined up to start.
Beth, Amritha, and I ready to take on the trails

The race announcer was a little too peppy. I think she was trying to be enthusiastic, but it wasn't working for me.  Anyway she gave us some basic rules (don't chuck your cup, bury your business, and something else that I forgot about) and sent us on our way.

There were lots of great markers along the way telling us where to turn...thank goodness because there were a lot of turns.  I suppose you could zone out and miss them, but they were really frequent.  Somehow I missed one because there were full and half markings at the beginning, but I figured it out after a few steps and got back on track because of the frequent markings. The mile markings were suprisingly accurate with my GPS (until about mile 11 where I somehow got 0.3 miles off and stayed that way for the rest of the race...a little annoying because I kept having to add 0.3 to my Garmin total when I was calculating pace in my head which I do frequently just to entertain myself).

I had debated a lot about whether to carry a handheld or a hydration pack, but I ultimately decided against it when the race director told us that there was going to be an aid station every 2-3 miles.  (more on that later)

Right after the start, I ran by Marathon Maniac Larry.  This guy is awesome, and he is so nice.  We chatted for a few minutes, and he said he was going to be at Reston Runners Marathon so I said I would see him again.  (As a side note, Zach was quite impressed that I was racing with a Guiness World Record holder.)   We start off on something called the Blue Mountain Bike trail and do a loop around Beaver Lake.
Stole this one from Beth's husband

Right away the trail was constantly rolling little hills, but the terrain was very runnable.  It was mostly packed dirt, soft pine needles, some sand, and a little loose gravel.  There were very few roots or rocks.  I was feeling really good in the beginning and hitting about 11-11:30 minute miles, running all of the little hills, and feeling strong and at an easy effort.  Around mile 6 we ran parallel to State Park Road and then ran a small loop before hitting an out and back section parallel to Beach Road between miles 8-14.  Miles 6-8 were a pretty steady uphill with lots of rollers.  There was a downhill section around 9-10, but it didn't feel that dramatic because there were still some rollers.  The worst part was that it was an out  and back so you saw the long gradual climb that you had to run back up.  I just kept plugging along.  At this point, it was fun because we were seeing a lot of other runners, and I saw my friends so that was awesome!  I ran with another woman for a bit until she faded.  It was also starting to really warm up.  The day would top out at 72 degrees which is really warm considering how cold it has been all winter for training.  There wasn't a ton of shade on the trails and lots of sections were exposed to direct sunlight. We had a small stream crossing that we had to do twice pretty quickly in succession on the out and back so that was a little refreshing.  It was also good to feel a breeze through the trees every once in a while.  I was actually enjoying the trail quite a bit.

I promise that I was having fun, and I just take awful photos.
It wasn't terribly scenic because it was mostly pine woods, but you could hear the frogs and the birds, and it was just really peaceful.  I also appreciated that the trails weren't heavily used by recreational bikers and runners so you weren't constantly getting passed by bikers.  The trails were also wide mostly double track or fire road so it was easy to pass.
Another stolen photo of the trails

At this point I really started to pay for not bringing hydration.  I felt like I couldn't get enough in at the aid stations because you had to gulp it down right there if you wanted to keep moving.  Most trail races will usually put a garbage bag a few hundred yards down the trail so you can hydrate a little more slowly as you move out of the aid station, but they did not do that. The volunteers were really nice at all of the aid stations, but they were pouring lots of cups of water ahead of time (which they didn't need to do since there weren't that many of us out there).  The water was then sitting out in the sun and getting really warm, and I had a few volunteers act a little irritated when I asked if I could have fresh cold water.  They also had no ice at any of the aid stations.  Lastly, they were handmixing some type of Accel at the aid stations, but they clearly had the wrong proportions because it was a clumpy disgusting mess.  I hadn't planned on using it, but I felt really badly for the runners who did need it.  One last aid station complaint was that the food wasn't great..pretzels, M&Ms, licorice, and cookies.  I understand that this was a race for charity and not big budget, but it would have been terrific to have some oranges or bananas or PBJ.  They also had no back up gels available.  Now a trail runner certainly shouldn't expect the aid stations to supply all fuel, but it would be a good idea to have some back up gel type products available.  I would give the aid stations a C for content, but an A- for volunteers.

Thank goodness I had my Endurolytes.  I used three of those during the race and staved off any cramping issues.  I was a little low on fuel because I had forgotten some of my chews in the handheld that I didn't bring.  Yes, I know, massive rookie mistakes going on.  Part of this was because I was thinking of it as a training run so I wasn't as obsessed with every little detail as I am when I'm racing.  I did end up going through one pack of Honey Stinger chews, one Honey Stinger wafffle, and a few random handfuls of aid station M&Ms.

Anyway, back to the race, the climb levels out around mile 15, and we head back towards the start/finish area with lots of rolling hills.  At this point I hadn't seen another runner for a while.  I came into the start finish area, close to mile 18 and was feeling behind on hydration, but still OK.  I stopped and hydrates some more and then headed back out onto the last 8 mile trail section.  It was a bit of  torture to come through the start/finish and smell the barbecue going.  I was feeling OK when I left that aid station, but then I got about a mile out, and there was a bit of a climb.  Then I just started to really hit the wall.  I called JD for a little encouragement while I took a walk break, but I was worried because I hadn't peed since 7:45 am, was feeling a little dizzy, and had pretty much stopped sweating.  I pulled myself together and said that I would make it to the next aid station and reassess.

Running past the start finish around mile 18=no fun!
My legs actually felt really good, and I wanted to keep running, and I really wanted to run the hills.  The rest of my body was not having that.  So I hit an aid station at somewhere close to mile 20, tried to drink some more, and headed out again.  I was still feeling bad and started to get a headache.  A little over mile 21 we got another AS.  I noticed this was a loop section because runners were coming back through so I asked one of the volunteers when we got back to this station.  He said at mile 24 so it was like a 10K loop.  I looked very confused, and said you mean a 5K loop, and he said no that it was a 10K loop, but that there was another AS at the halfway point on this loop.  So now I'm really confused and wondering if I'm delirious or if the guy doesn't understand kilometers.  I just kept moving and eventually found another aid station a little past mile 22, but I was starting to get a really bad headache at that point and still was not sweating.  There was little shade at this point in the course, and the sun was really bad.  I was really frustrated, but I did discover that I wasn't delirious and that the volunteer was off in his directions.  I checked in with JD to let him know that I had about 5K to go once I had covered some ground from that AS.  I told him I would check back in around mile 24.  I was checking in because there was just no one on the trail around me, and I was a little afraid that I might faint and then just lay on the trail for a while before anyone discovered me.  It's not like I was more than 1-2 miles from any aid, but I had no clue how far behind another runner was since I hadn't seen or heard another runner for well over an hour (I would later discover that there was a runner about 15 minutes behind me.).  I made it to AS at mile 24, drank more, and headed back out.  There was another AS around mile 25 (same one that we saw at ~19) so I drank a little more and then headed out for the last mile.

 I have to say that I was actually impressed by the frequency of the aid stations at the end.  It worked out well since we were running loops that you ended up passing through three of them twice near the end.  The last mile was awful.  There was a long, grinding hill, and a stream crossing with less than .5 miles to go.  Now I don't normally mind stream crossings, but I was irritated about having to get my feet soaked again right at the end.  I finally came out of the woods and saw the finish line.  It was pretty quiet, but my friends had waited for me which was so awesome and unexpected since they had finished almost an hour before.  Plus Nicolas saw me, and he ran out to run me into the finish line which Zach and JD were cheering for me.  I felt like puking when I finished, but my legs felt amazingly good.
My little man running me in!

Final time was 6:09 (14:05 average pace---it just really fell off after about mile 18) which actually put me in 4th for 40-49 age group (now don't get too excited, there were only 6 of us old girls racing).  I was hoping to be closer to 5:30, but the dehydration just did me in.

I am choosing to focus on the positives 1) my legs felt strong 2) I was running hills even trying them at the end when I felt sick  3) my legs feel great 2 days later like I could run long again 4)  even with a bad day my average pace was still faster than what I need to make the cut for Bull Run 5)  the course was reflective of elevation changes at Bull Run so good training run 6) I kept a good pace comfortably until the hydration issues kicked in 7) I got a lot of time on my legs. 8) I didn't end up using my music at all because I wasn't feeling well at the end when I usually use it, but this was good because I know mentally that I'm good now with no music for 26!
Course elevation profiles

Overall, this race was OK.  The trails were pleasant and runnable.  They weren't super interesting (mostly pine woods with a few streams and ponds thrown in), but they were nice enough. It was lonely at the back of the pack as well since there weren't a lot of runners. I already mentioned the aid station issues, and the post race food wasn't that great (hot dogs, hamburgers, and sausages that were basically cold by the time that I finished--guess that's what happens when you don't finish fast).  All of the volunteers were really nice, and the race director did come right over to me as soon as I crossed the finish line with ice and two cold bottles of water and asked me what I needed and what she could do to help me feel better.  Shirts were decent and medal was cute but nothing fancy (again fine given the purpose of the race).  A little more detail from the race director either in pre-race emails or on the website would have I would recommend this race to other trail runners, but just make sure that you are not really relying on the aid stations.

Lastly, I want to thank my coaches Sage Canady and Sandi Nypaver at VO2Max Productions for getting me to this point in the training and pushing me to my limit, my awesome husband and run partner for life who put up with my frantic phone calls, my boys for believing that mommy is awesome no matter what, and my runner friends for their smiles and encouragement on the trails.


  1. Nice work Heather! Impressed at your determination and strong legs! Trail marathons are a different kind of beast entirely :) You will totally rock Bull Run!

  2. Wow--- congrats on sticking it out. That sounds extremely tough and I am so glad you didn't pass out. Yikes. This bodes well for your 50!