This past Saturday night, I had made the decision to travel down to Amherst, NH for the Joe English 6 Hour Twilight challenge. Initially, I wasn’t sure about the drive home. It was going to be late; I was going to be alone; I was going to be zonked. Thankfully, at the last minute, I found two local runners – one that I knew previously, and the other I met that day – who were also going. That meant I didn’t have to drive and could get to know some more local running people.
Going down, it poured. The forecast called for rain – all night. In fact, one forecast called for a quarter of an inch of rain. That’s a lot of rain. My main concern wasn’t so much the mud, or the rain, but the temperature. Being constantly wet for six hours when it’s 50 degrees means you’re going to be cold, even if you’re running, you’ll be cold. Thankfully, the temperature didn’t drop that much and the rain only really came down for an hour or two block in the beginning.
I went into things not really having a ‘goal’. Sure, 40 miles would be nice, but training since VT100 had been poor at best. Most of it was just recovery 20-30 mile weeks with an 8.25 mile long run. My Achilles was still not 100%, but had been healing, and I was ready to ease up at a moments notice with thoughts of future races. Of course, tendonitis being what it is, it didn’t hurt until I stopped and then it started to stiffen up a bit.
The loop was a 2.62 mile loop. There was a turn around a quarter of a lap in to pick up a half loop at the end, time permitting. It wasn’t your typical single track mountain trail, but it was reminiscent of a groomed high school cross country trail. It is a horse trail and is a minimum twelve feet wide at all times. Some if it is gravel and dirt, some of it grass. Some of it is under tree cover, and some if it in open fields.
It started out quite nice, but as you can imagine a dirt trail with a number of runners running loops in the rain gets pretty sloppy, and it didn’t take too long before some of the steeper declines became slip and slides. By the end, even the herd paths through the grass had to be avoided.
Having never run a timed event before, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but my mindset went something like this: “Go out comfortable until you can’t, then just keep moving forward. There’s no distance to be covered, just time to be eaten, move forward.” And so I went out and just ran. My splits were fairly consistent for the first six laps, and then slowly started to deteriorate.
Things started to fall off around the tenth lap – about three hours in, just before I hit the marathon mark. I’m not exactly sure what happened, but there are a variety of things that I can and will blame. Starting with the thing out of my control:
Two things here – firstly the course was getting sloppy and shoes were getting wet. Gravel had entered shoes at this point and was getting uncomfy. The rain and mud made things an uncertainty so running down the hills took a bit of precaution. Secondly, the fog. Sometime in there the fog became super dense and there was a bit of a mist. If you’ve ever driven in the fog you know that the reflection off the fog can reduce your visibility pretty good. Well, the same holds true for runners. I’d be willing to guess – no exaggeration – that visibility was 20-30 feet for a while, at points even less. There was no cruising, lots of slowing down around turns to make sure you were following the flags.
And now for the real reasons:
Being the genius that I am, I left packing until the last minute. In doing so, I managed to forget my sweet potato mix at home which meant, I had no food. Around two hours in, I realized I needed to start eating and grabbed a couple of Nilla Waffers off of the aid station. The next lap in, I realized I couldn’t make it on cookies and grabbed a couple of Cliff Gels. Over the next hour, I consumed the gels and started to feel kind of gross. Not crampy or anything to really stop me from running, but my guts just weren’t happy. I asked one of the volunteers for a burger and they kindly obliged, so I ran the last 2.5 hours of the race with my Orange Mud Handheld in one hand and a burger in the other. Not an ideal source of calories, but it worked – to some degree.
I was awake for the start, but as the day wore on, waking up at 6:00 AM was finally catching up to me. My body felt okay, but mentally I started to drift. I lost track of laps and just kept going forwards and that was good enough. My legs were feeling fine, but my back was sore and the head lamp and fog was really starting to give me some tunnel vision. I won’t say I threw in the towel, but I wasn’t really hell bent on pushing it either. If you look at the pace of my last half lap, you’ll see that I had plenty of gas left in the tank and probably should have been pushing a bit harder. Had I shaved a couple of minutes off my last two laps, I might have been able to eek out a full 16 laps instead of 15.5.
In the end, I can blame it on some extraneous variables, but it was really the head that broke on this one.
The Final Hour
Coming into the final hour I had lost count of laps and asked on the way in how many laps I was on. They told me and off I went. While I’m not the world’s greatest mathematician, I quickly tried to do some mental gymnastics to figure out how many laps I needed to hit that magical 40 number. No matter how many times I did it, I feel tragically short. There was no way I was going to hit 40 so what was the point in pushing on? (Not my everyday mindset, but the mindset I was in at that given moment.) As I ran I slowed down and tried to think about how many laps I could get done in the allotted time. There was no way I could do three, so I slowed down and planned on doing 2.5. In the end, I probably could have picked the pace up a bit and nipped three laps. I guess this is where a crew of some sort might come in handy. It’s hard to think sometimes…
Coming into the barn off my final full lap, I looked at my watch and saw I had sixteen minutes left. Through out the race I used the 1/4 turn around as a point to check my time. I’d been making it to the turn around the last two laps in around seven minutes. If I hustled, I could pick up another mile plus. I tossed my burger and handheld to the side and headed out of the barn. Knowing I was close to the end and having that deadline in front of my nose pushed me on. There was no more I had to do, when I got back, I could be done, so I pushed. I guess you could call it a kick, though kicks are generally associated with speed. There was no speed in this. I finished and was glad it was over. I wasn’t totally trashed as expected, and after chatting with my carmates, and checking the splits on my watch, I realized I had run 15.5 laps, and not 14.5. I had cracked 40, and with that I was stoked.
Pros of the Timed Event
Being my first timed event, I figured why not share what I liked and didn’t. One of the big pluses with a loop is the familiarity you can gain with said loop. After the first two or three times through, you know the tangents, you know when big hill is coming, or where the rock hiding in the grass ready to send you sprawling is waiting. It’s also quite helpful to never be far from an aid station or your stuff. It means you can carry less, and if you forget something, you don’t have to hold on long before you can get to it.
People. I’m not always a big fan of people. I like my quiet. I like my solitude, but people also give you something to chase. On a loop course, there’s always carrots, always someone in front of you ready to be hunted down. It also means that you can chat it up and meet people when you want/need and breaks up some of the monotony.
Cons of the Timed Event
In crummy weather conditions a wet loop can get beat up pretty bad.
Yeah, that’s about it. I really liked this loop.
I’d also say that as a first year event, this thing rocked. It’s one I’ll probably do again, and one I’d suggest to others. It’s cheap. It’s an excellent setup. The people who put it on were some of the most helpful and pleasant I’ve met.