Rough Trail 50K 2018 Race Report
On the walk to toe the line I thought about a bunch of different things. I thought about how I was a little cold, but was worried about being warm on the heinous climbs though the race; about how this was my THIRD ultra; about how I really hadn’t trained, but yet still thought I might do pretty well (funny how your mind always thinks you’re still in great shape). Snow fell softly among the fires and headlamps that surrounded the starting area.
When the race started it felt familiar. Like an old friend you hadn’t seen in a while. I hadn’t run too much this fall, choosing to focus on different things and not creating time to go put in those long runs on the weekends. The last few weeks leading up to the race, I decided to do a couple runs in the gorge to see how i’d fair. When you do training runs like that all the memories flood back as nature has a way of relieving your everyday stresses and winding you though the nooks and crannies of it’s dense landscape.
I remembered the first run I ever did when I first moved to Kentucky, and decided I wanted to start doing ultras. I remember each hike I’ve with my parents when they have come down to visit. I remember encountering that couple that was lost and without a map just looking for a place to camp, wanting to know a sense of where they were. I remember the boy scout troops I’ve passed who gawk as I run by.
Suddenly, I’m two miles into the race. My pace feels good. Brisk but not fast, slow but not trudging. I’m comfortable, despite my hands feeling like they’re turning into blocks of ice. Twenty minutes in I know I can’t hold it anymore.. my bowels that is. I run off course dodging for a tree to hide behind, glancing at my watch to keep track of time as I take care of business. Four minutes pass and I’m back on the trail in new form. I decide to try to make up some time and catch up to the people I was running with.
Mistake number one. I wasn’t going to make up 4 minutes fast. Furthermore, in a race, where I’m really not competing for the top spot, what does four minutes mean in the grand scheme of things? I’m too proud to think that these were the people I should be pacing off of and sprinted down into the valley charging up the first thousand foot climb with a vengeance.
Up the other side huffing and puffing the way those short, but steep appalachian hills make you feel I settled back into my comfortable race pace. The miles seemed to float by and then we hit auxier ridge road. This road run is somewhere around 3 miles, but feels like it takes forever. I make conversation with two guys as we trot along the winding gravel road.
I decide not to stop at the first aid station and press through. I wanted auxier ridge to myself to enjoy the beauty of it, and not have to worry about someone on my tail. I felt fast and free, soaring above the tree tops and dancing amongst the ridge rocks. Although, I started to feel my legs not stretching as far. They were tightening up and starting to give me little cramps. Nonetheless, I continued on my way and made my way into the valley, and was trying to prepare mentally for the big climb to come. The climb came, and it was brutal. Just the way I had remembered it, and maybe more so this time around. Gaining the gravel road, it was a short distance back to the aid station. It felt like a slow death. Now I was trudging. I wanted to walk on some of the slight uphills, but I wouldn’t all myself to do it. I ran what I could, and restocked at the aid station. I took pickles, pickle juice, and some m&m’s. I think I was also hungry from not eating much for breakfast, which could have contributed to some of my pain and discomfort in my stomach.
Next up, the road run back to Gray’s Arch station. It seemed to go on forever, and I kept getting slower, and slower. After watching a few people effortlessly float by me I made it back onto the trail and stumbled and bumbled my way down to the halfway mark and the second aid station. I ended up walking into the aid station wondering how the heck I was going to be able to do another 16 miles. At this point my hips were hurting for some unknown reason and jogging just didn’t feel good. I really thought about quitting, but I don’t think I could have put up with myself if I did quit. Leaving the aid station I had packed pretzels in my vest and started walking back up the trail. Immediately, the trail ascends for about 800 feet on some of the steepest grades of the day. These trails were familiar though, and gave me.a sense of calm in the midst of the commotion happening inside my head.
Upon reaching the trail leading down to Gray’s Arch, I was able to work up a jog and pass a few 25k runners which made me feel good. It was a fight from there on out though. I walked more than I wanted to and huffed and puffed my way down the trail. The out and back felt like pure torture. I was almost certain I was going to quit, if I had let myself think that was okay. Alas, I am stubborn and am not okay with quitting something like that. I trudged on. In all of the ultras i’ve done. I’ve almost always felt a resurgence with about 5-10k left in the race. This resurgance came and all the pain went away… until we had to drop down and back up near hidden arch. That was a loop that we didn’t have to run twice last year, so of course I complained about it to myself on the run this year.
Amazingly, I was able to work up a jog across the finish line. I almost cried. It was such a hard race that day. A year before it didn’t seem nearly as hard (100% because I had trained). Thankfully Becca was there to give me a blanket and console me and tell me about her awesome race in the 25k. I don’t think i’ll be running this race again next year. I’d like to focus a bit more on climbing and have some of those glorious fall days plugging gear in the rock and not having to train a multitude of hours on the trails. We’ll see though. There will definitely be another ultra in the works at some point.
As the seasons have now changed, my focus is on ice climbing. With a few big trips coming up in the next few months things should be exciting. I’m going to try to get together my annual year in review post and then hopefully get some new gear review posts up in the new year. Merry Christmas y’all!