If 2013 had gone according to plan, I would not have even run the She Rocks this year, after the terrible, awful, no good race I had last year. But, as it turned out, I’m super happy that I came back for the second annual, because it was probably my best and most favorite race ever!
Let’s catch up on some stuff that’s happened in the six months since my last blog post, shall we? I ended last year with a fabulous 50-miler and a soggy marathon, then started this year with a really lovely 50K that I somehow never blogged about. It was awesome, though a lot tougher than I thought it would be. Story of my life right there. All of these races were ramping up for what was supposed to be my crowning glory, a 100K on May 11th. Aaaaaaaand, then I DNF’d the 100K. There could and should be a whole post about that race, but let me summarize it for you thus: it was brutally hot and brutally difficult and I didn’t make the time cutoff at Mile 43. Bummer.
So just like that – *snap* – the She Rocks appeared back on my mental radar. At a quarter the distance of my BFF (big fat failure), it hardly qualified as a redemption race, but I really needed to get back on the horse and ride. Errrrr, “trail” and “run.” Whatever.
This morning, when I went back and read last year’s race report, I actually laughed out loud at how very, very different this year’s race went. Like 180 degrees different. You know how the first time you do something, it just seems so difficult, so challenging, so much like you’ll never, ever be good at it, ever? And then you keep doing it anyway and you get so much better that you almost forget how hard it was at first? That’s pretty much me and trail running. Last year at this time, I was such a newbie that even a little bit of dirt and hills seemed overwhelming, but after a year of pretty consistent training, I feel like a reasonably accomplished trail runner.
Getting ready for this year’s race, I actually trained on trails! Go figure. In fact, I ran nearly the whole course about two weeks ago with UltraIronHubs, which went a long way in the confidence-building department. And just last week, we ran a nighttime 10K on a trail even more technical and steeper than the She Rocks, which made me feel like I could pretty much tackle anything.
So, I woke up at the crack of night on race day feeling rather confident and excited. Maybe a little nervous, but mostly ready to rock and determined to make the best of the day. I had trained well, I fueled well, I pre-hydrated, I had cleared my colon, and I had a lucky bib number. The stars were aligning very nicely, thank you! My goals – in order – were:
- Finish with a smile on my face
- Beat last year’s time (4:15), even if it’s only by a minute
- Break 4 hours
- Maybe, if I’m having a really, really great day, see a finish time in the 3:30 range
I showed up at the starting line delighted at the chill in the air. Probably the nicest difference from last year’s race was the gorgeous weather we had yesterday. Starting temps in the low 60s and finishing temps in the low 80s were completely manageable, even for a girl who hates running in the heat. (Me. In case you didn’t get that.) I took a selfie with the frog, hit the bathrooms a record three times, and sat in my warm car until about ten minutes to the start. On my way to the bathroom the first time, a girl came up behind me and said, “I saw you at the Twilight Trail Adventure last week!” I sort of chuckled and said I was easy to spot because I was wearing the exact same outfit, huh? It’s always nice to start the day with a friendly face. She commented to another girl we met in the bathroom that she liked her shoes – they were wearing the exact same shoes – and the other girl replied that she had just come back from Hawaii and they were all dirty. It was sort of a non-sequitur answer, but again, such a nice vibe to the day, being surrounded by friendly people.
There was a lovely air of excitement at the starting line. The announcer made a few jokes and the race director wished us all a good day. Everybody moved up to the starting line and I was unintentionally closer to the front of the pack than I meant to be, but there was no time to fret about that. We were off!
Having just run most of the course two weeks ago, I felt relaxed. I knew what was coming. I told myself to enjoy the downhills and don’t worry about the ups. I got passed by a few girls and I passed a few girls. I really wasn’t worried about my placement in the pack, I just wanted to feel good and run strong.
So I did.
We got to the bottom of the hill (about 800 feet of descent in three-ish miles), then turned a sharp corner to go right back up to the top in just a mile and a half. This is definitely the hardest part of the course, but it felt okay. I mean, I didn’t run any of it or anything; it’s barely walkable at an average of something like 18% grade, but I never felt like, “Oh, crap, I can’t do this!” like I felt last year. I knew I could do it, I just had to keep moving forward and not worry about it.
I chatted – and I use that word loosely, since we were only capable of short bursts of a few words at a time – with a trio of girls who who were very nice and obviously hadn’t run Cardiac Trail before. I gave them a little heads up about the rest of the course and we joked about how much this part sucked. I made it to the top of the hill and onto the canal feeling great. This would be the flattest part of the whole day and my grammatically incorrect motto is “Run good when you feel good.” So I ran good! I passed several people and only got passed by one young girl.
The course is a figure-8, with a pass through the finishing arch on your way to the second half, which is actually much longer than the first part, so not really “half” at all. Anyway, I made it to the 10K finish at 1:10. I have no idea how long that part took me last year, but I do know that I felt a thousand times better this year. I was smiling and feeling wonderful and raised my hands in the air when the announcer called my name and said he’d see me in a little while. I grabbed a cup of water at the aid station and skedaddled on my way down the hill for the second time.
The strangest thing happened after the 10K mark: the field had spread out so far that I was almost completely alone on the course. It was crazy. It was exactly like being on a training run, though, so I just relaxed into it and let the trail take me up and down and around. I felt like I was probably in last place, but then I heard footsteps behind me. I checked to see how close the other runner was, in case I needed to offer to let her pass, and it was Hawaii Shoes girl. She was close but didn’t seem to want by me, so I ran on. We didn’t talk, but to me it was a companionable silence. A mile or so down the way, I was walking up a hill and she ran past me, so I followed her shoes for awhile, still silently. Then later I passed her again.
There’s a little dogleg section of the course that leads out to the most enthusiastic aid station you’ll ever see – big, good-looking men dressed in grass skirts and coconut bras, hooting and hollering so loud you can hear it for at least a mile down the trail. It was freaking awesome! I remember them from last year because I was so happy for the ice that I put in my hat and shirt. This year, though, I was just plain happy. I felt great! I watered down the Gatorade in my handheld just enough to make it to the next aid station, smiled and laughed a little with Hawaii Shoes and then set out back down the trail.
The dogleg and the rest of the second “half” are both out and back, so I started seeing other runners and exchanging smiles and “good jobs” with them. Everybody was so friendly! I saw my trio of Cardiac Hill friends and told them they looked great. I ran on toward the turnaround at No Hands Bridge and Hawaii Shoes stuck to my back pocket. There were quite a few photographers on course and I smiled brightly for them all. I felt fantastic!
I enjoy out and back courses because you see the same people and you can sort of judge where you are in the field. With two out and backs, though, I couldn’t really tell. It was nice to see the same people again, though.
At No Hands Bridge, the incredibly friendly volunteers filled my water bottle with delicious ice cold water and offered me food I didn’t want or need. They were wonderful and I would have loved to stay, but I only had five miles left to run and I wanted to get to it! I knew this was going to be difficult, climbing back up that hill for the rest of the race, but I felt ready for it. There seemed to be a lot more shade this year and the hills weren’t as unbearable as I remembered. The weather being about 10–15 degrees cooler than last year apparently changed my whole perception of this race course!
I ran on. I walked up a lot of the hills, but ran the rest of the time. My legs felt great. My feet felt great. My heart felt light and happy. This was going to be my day. I passed a girl I had been chasing for miles and she commented, “Wow, you’re fast!” I laughed and said, “No. I’m really not, but I am having a really good day!” She told me great job and I kept on running. Hawaii Shoes was still with me, but she was drifting back a little. A friendly girl still on her way out told me, “I read your blog!! I recognize you from the picture!” I squealed and said, “What?!? Wow!! Thank you!!” I felt like a freaking rock star.
I made it the photographer at Mile 14 and gave him a big smile. I was thrilled that I still felt like smiling at Mile 14! I was really going to conquer this thing today! I couldn’t help but compare the day to last year, when I was completely fried by this point. I had been mentally preparing for these last few miles all day. I remembered how awful it was to think I was almost done when I still had so much farther to go, so I had been telling myself that today was a 17 mile run and anything less than that was gravy. 25K should be 15.5 miles, but last year the course was way over 16 miles, so I didn’t even let myself think the words “almost done” until I was running up the very last hill to the finishing chute!
I caught up to two very nice ladies in that final mile and we chatted a bit about the course and the skirt one of them was wearing. I passed one of them, even though I didn’t really need to and the lead woman asked me more than once if I wanted to pass her. I didn’t. She was running a great pace and I was enjoying just letting her lead me in. She was so funny, though. When she asked if I wanted to pass, she asked me how old I was! Like maybe she wouldn’t let me pass if I was in her AG!! As it turned out, I was in a younger AG and she beat me anyway. I love it!
Somewhere around this last mile or so, I let myself look at my Garmin and do a little running math. I was having a really, really, really good day. Better than good. I was kicking ass and taking names over last year’s time and all I had to do was keep moving forward. I could CRAWL it in and beat even my most pie-in-the-sky time goal. I sort of ran, sort of power-walked up that last grassy hill and got so choked up when I checked my time that I almost couldn’t run at all.
Last year I ran a 4:15:34 and came in 104th place overall, 31st in my age group. This year I ran a 3:11:22 and placed 31st overall, 7th in my AG.
Seriously, is there anything better in the world than a redemption race? I think not.