I’d forgotten how much these miles can hurt, but that was the point of signing up for the Free State 40-miler.
The focal point of my 2013 trail season is the Meet Your Maker 50-Miler on Sept. 1 in Whistler, B.C. I will have plenty of long time-on-feet training runs before race day, but I wanted to have one longer than eight hours to remind myself that no matter how much the miles can hurt, you have to keep going. I learned about that pain at the Silver Rush 50 last summer in Leadville, Colo., but the feeling — the aching arches of my feet, the grumpy knees and tightness in the lower back – had faded with time and become lost in the photographs and memories of that remarkable day.
The 50-miler at 3 Days of Syllamo would’ve provided a sufficient reminder and taken care of the time on feet that I sought, but I DNF’d after 19 miles in the wake of a hard 50K the day before. Free State provided another opportunity.
Free State did not disappoint.
The trails at Clinton Lake State Park in Lawrence provided a little bit of everything that I’ve come to expect from them – technical footing, quick climbs, fast downhills, a cool breeze off the lake, and a whole lot of wonderful singletrack wiggling its way through the woods.
But the trails also provided a serious butt-kicking that I should have expected. I know the Clinton trails well, but somehow underestimated them on this day.
The first 20-mile loop was a wonderful run through the woods. Danny Loenthal and I struck up conversation at the starting line, and that chatter carried us through the early miles as we cruised through Cactus Ridge and then onto the Blue Trail and the rocky Red Trail section right along the lakeshore to Land’s End. Dave Everhart and Emily Royal joined us at around mile three, and our group stuck together until the 10.5-mile mark when Dave and I sped up a bit. We cruised through the Nature Trail Loop, refueled at the Corps of Engineers Aid Station and then hopped onto the White Trail and picked up the pace on the numerous quick downhill sections as we made our way back to the Start/Finish.
We finished the loop in about 3:48, and my legs felt great. We’d made good time, I’d managed my nutrition by eating mostly solid foods from aid stations (something I planned to do rather than relying so much on gels).
Shortly after heading back out for the second loop, however, the effects of a quick first loop caught up with my legs. My hamstrings tightened up within the first mile, as did my lower back. A nasty stone bruise also flared up under the toes on my right foot. From that point on, the race turned into a grind.
Dave and I hiked most of Cactus Ridge and the Red Trail before we found some downhill stretches where I could open up my stride, pick up the pace, and settle into a trot. At mile 27 I told Dave to go ahead so I wouldn’t hold him back. He stuck with me anyway, which was a real blessing. In addition to providing company and conversation, he kept me moving steadily forward. That proved to be particularly helpful after leaving the Corps of Engineers Aid Station with about 8 1/2 miles to go. We didn’t see another soul in front or behind us from that point until reaching Land’s End, so Dave kept me pushing ahead during what could have been lonely miles (and much slower miles if done solo).
My motivation picked up with three miles to go when the mileage markers provided assurance that the finish line was close. Dave and I picked up the pace during that final stretch. Finally, with a half-mile to go Dave glanced at his watch and said, “You want to get in under 8:30, right? Then you’ve got about five, maybe six minutes, to get to the finish.”
We hammered the final stretch, popped out onto the gravel road and charged up the hill to the finish line with time to spare.
The second-longest run of my life was done in 8:28:05, good enough for 10th overall.
I accomplished all three of my goals for the day — to have fun, to get a lot of time on my feet, and to finish. I also had some weaknesses exposed (hamstrings, glutes) that I need to focus on strengthening, and I got a much-needed reminder of how much the long miles can hurt on race day. The pain can be minimized with more long training runs in the coming months leading up to the Meet Your Maker 50. Ultimately, that was the point of running on Saturday. Free State reaffirmed my commitment to put in those long days on the trail so that I’ll be ready on race day.
The Free State training day was a success. Now there’s more work to do.