Two years ago, the Skippo 20K was my first trail race ever, run on the heels of my first half marathon. Like, 6 days later and two days after I was able to walk without limping. Last year’s Skippo offered options of 10, 20, or 30K, and I registered for the 30 with high (and misplaced) hopes of putting in some strong training before the big day. I’m a slow learner, because once again I registered for the 30K, and once again I barely trained for it. Life is busy, cyclocross beckons, choose your excuse, but I showed up at this year’s start line with a total of 13 miles of running in the past month and a long run of 12 miles way back on September 29. Even by my standards this promised to be a train wreck.
While anticipating my impending trail doom at least I had a fun pre-race to look forward to with a lot of friends also racing. My Virtus teammate Luke, my Team Hangover teammate Scott, and my Metro Tri Club teammates Jeff, Maureen, Keith, Robin, Chuck, and Jacob would all be there as well as my friends Sara, James B, Suzanne, and Hannah (who I got to finally meet in person after reading each other’s blogs forever). Scott’s friends Neil and Jason were running as well, so the half hour or so before the race was filled with repeated rounds of introductions as new people came up. Very cool, and a nice distraction from my rapidly developing nerves.
|Hannah is awesome…and I’m not as short as I look here!|
We headed to our varied pace groups a few minutes before the 9:00 start. I joked about a 20 minute/mile group, figured I’d be lucky to manage a 12 min pace overall, and settled on the back of the 10 min group. Though it usually takes me a mile or so to settle in and stop feeling like death, I felt good from the start. The first two miles of the course are pretty flat, and the first lap is always super crowded as all 600 (400? I forget) racers fill the trails. Last year I tucked in behind people who were running more slowly than I wanted to conserve energy, but this year I did some passing. Robin and Chuck passed me in this stretch, and I ran with them for a few minutes before they disappeared in the distance.
The infamous stairs (212 of them) were pretty much a logjam, but I can’t pretend that I was too sad about having to take my time on the way up. Even with the slow pace, my first trip up the stairs sucked. There’s a fairly runnable section after the stairs, a hill I always have to walk partway up, and then one of my favorite sections of the course: a beautiful, flat dirt path that turns onto a gradual, more technical long downhill. The downhill makes it easier, and the rocks and gravel make it more interesting. I haven’t spent nearly as much time on trails this year as last year, so I wasn’t quite as confident in my footing, but it was still fun. Jacob came up behind me in this section and fell hard on one of the rocky areas. He spent the rest of the race hurting and still toughed it out and came away with a 1st in his AG. He brushed himself off and quickly passed me.
I saw another fall at the bottom of this downhill when a guy tripped, landed hard, and rolled partway down the side hill. Ow. This section was pretty flat through the creek crossing, where most of the people took a little detour to avoid most of the water. Lame, I grumbled, and splashed through the most direct route (this video of me is apparently the only photographic evidence that I raced). The cold water felt great as the day was rapidly appropaching and passing the forecast high in the low 70’s, but I probably should have made sure my socks were adjusted better before the race because I think the wet, bunched up socks contributed to some hot spots on the bottoms of my feet.
|Trust me…it’s worse than it looks.|
Another big hill followed shortly after the creek crossing, and I didn’t run too far up this before settling into a death march. Like the stairs, my first trip up the hill was the hardest. The top is very runnable, though, and only one more hill waits before a nice, long flat-to-downhill run back to the start/finish. My first 10K took 1:09:55, about 30 seconds faster than last year. I grabbed a raspberry Hammer gel and stopped at the water table to refill my bottle before setting off on lap 2.
A couple of girls doing the 20K passed me heading onto the trail and noticed my 30K number. “You’re really hardcore, doing 30K,” one of them said. “I’m so not hardcore,” I told them, trying to explain that I could be really slow in the 20K, or really slow in the 30K. If you’re going to fall short, fall short in a big way, I guess. Overall I still felt pretty good, but I was surprised to catch up to Jacob on the trail; I know he’s way faster than me, so there’s no way I should have seen him after he passed me. Once we started talking I found out he’d been sick the night before in addition to his earlier fall. We ran together on the flats until Jim A passed; recognizing him from last year I said goodbye to Jacob and we ran on.
Having someone else to run with made me push a little more, and before long I saw Chuck and Robin ahead of us on the trail. Again I was suprised to catch up because I know they’re both way stronger runners than I am, but I know they haven’t done as much running as usual since finishing their Ironman in September. “You’re looking pretty strong, Kate,” Chuck told me as I passed.
|Still smiling…sort of…but not for long.|
“It’s all a facade,” I called back. It didn’t feel easy, but I still was feeling surprisingly good overall. The stairs weren’t nearly as bad this time, but with nobody pushing me from behind I couldn’t keep up with Jim’s pace, so he ran ahead and I was on my own again. My second lap went well, nothing really noteworthy except that my Achilles, which has been giving me all kinds of trouble, was quiet. The only real discomfort I was feeling was in my feet: the bottoms of my feet felt a little raw, and the toes on my right foot were hurting. Compared to the issues I’d anticipated (the glute problem I’ve had on and off, the left knee that regularly leaves me limping, the aforementioned Achilles), I was content with sore feet. Only at the end of this second lap did things start to come crashing down. By the time I hit the road about .3 miles from the start/finish line (in my case, the start/finish of my third lap) I was actively hurting and very happy to stop from a hug and some encouragement from Keith, who’d taken 3rd in his 20K AG.
My total time for the first 20K was 2:26:34, about 2 minutes slower than last year but better than I’d anticipated. By contrast, Maureen was the first female finisher for the 30K just 5 minutes later. Wow. At this point I was clinging to the hope that I could finish in about the same time as last year, but things pretty much went to hell in the last lap. My glute woke up with all the sadistic glee of Jack Nicholsen’s character in The Shining, my knee hurt, and my raw feet were hating life.
I’m so glad I carried a bottle with me because the three water stops on course just wouldn’t have been enough for me in the heat. As I stopped at the water table to refill my bottle one of the volunteers reassured me that he’d seen a lot of people with 30K numbers drop out and I was still ahead of all of them (I think that’s maybe the running equivalent of “You’re not in last, Kate,”). I left the water station at a gimpy jog and contemplated how long it would take me to walk the remaining 6.2 miles.
I’d been walking the bigger hills all along, but on the third lap I was reduced to walking this type of “challenging” terrain:
|What do they think we are?? Mountain goats?|
I really had to dig deep just to run even the flattest, smoothest parts of the trail, and I was deep in misery by the time I reached the stairs. Trudging up, I looked up to see the smiling face of my friend Bill who was out training with Joe. Being the competitive, driven person I am, I stopped in the middle of my race to chat. I’d have been perfectly happy to stand there and talk for longer, but eventually I had to accept that I’d never finish the race if I didn’t keep going.
Before long the boys came running by me again and cheering for me, I guess having made it to the bottom of the stairs and then probably bounded back up on the way to get their bikes. It gave me a lift to see them again, and when I got to the top of the next hill I started jogging again. Just as I was running up to a volunteer before the fun downhill, my calf muscles started to flicker. I stopped before it full-on cramped to stretch it out and then walked to where the volunteer was. He suggested I see if the mountain bikers who were doing medical support had salt tablets or something, so I walked a little more and then started running again.
I’ve never cramped during a race, but I assume it was due to the heat and losing so much salt. Whatever the issue, Bill and Joe saved the day when they rode up behind me. “Hey, do you guys have any ibuprofen or salt tablets?” Not only did Bill have ibuprofen and give me some Gatorade, but Joe, who I’d just met about 10 minutes earlier, poured almost all of his water into my water bottle. Buoyed by hopes of pain relief, I started running again. Some.
By the time that I reached the creek crossing I just walked through it and then walked past the water stop afterwards. I did some run/walk to the big hill, made my way up it, and then walked some more. A look at my watch made it clear that I wasn’t going to finish in the same time as last year and almost certainly would be over 4 hours. (C’mon, it’s only 3ish miles…anyone can run 3 miles…) I decided to run 200 steps and then walk until I felt better. Unfortunately, the calf flickers usually kicked in within 100 steps or so, reducing me to a cautious walk, but I just made the best of it and ran as long as my legs would let me. Finally about a mile from the end (C’mon, it’s only a mile…anyone can run a mile…) the medicine and Gatorade seemed to kick in and I ran most of the remainder.
The finish line was still up when I finished (this had seriously been a concern of mine before the race), but the announcer had stopped calling the names of racers as they crossed the line. Three people sitting in the field cheered, and a boy at the end gave me my sweet mug and belt buckle. They were all out of beer, which would have tasted fantastic in the heat, but there was still plenty of delicious BBQ left. I ate, hung out with Luke and Scott for a while, then headed back home.
|Photo credit: Luke Lamb|
Once again I was the third last finisher, 2nd last woman overall, and 2nd last in my AG…sort of a triumph, I guess, because I truly expected to be last. My official time was 4:04:50, which is both slower than I’d hoped and better than I deserved.
I maybe could have beaten 4 hours had I not stopped twice to talk, but honestly by that point my GAF (give a f…) was broken and I needed that water and ibuprofen way more than hitting some arbitrary time goal anyway. I’d like to tell you that I’ve learned my lesson and will give future races the training they warrant, but that would probably be a lie. Instead I’ll tell you that I hope next year’s Skippo won’t give me a 30K option…and that by this time next year my legs will have forgiven me.