I honestly wasn't sure what to expect. I figured the course would have some rolling hills and be a somewhat run-of-the-mill course that would likely seem dull on the second loop. I was pleasantly surprised to be 100% wrong. Well okay, maybe 75%, there were LOTS of rolling hills. However, the course itself could not be any more beautiful. There was a lot of single track. Not just any single track, but the kind of single track that trail runners dream of. That nice narrow path that winds unbroken through the trees and is almost perfectly smooth except for the occasional rock or root. Yet there was a lot of challenging sections too, where the trail was canted as you made your way down or up the switchbacks, or where there'd be long stretches of challenging footing - littered with roots and rocks and other toe grabbers. And there was enough double track and fire roads to make sure you were still awake and switch it up a bit. There was also a small portion of the trail that traveled down to the base of a waterfall and ran along in the ravine, close enough to allow the runners to feel the mist of the spray. The trail was in a word, stunning. I was thrilled, and enjoying every minute.
Waiting for the race to start at 6:00, I wasn't sure what to expect. I felt pretty fit, but my weekly mileage has been relatively meager. And even though I've been supplementing the miles with some biking and swimming, I was a little uncertain. However, as usual when the race started everything seemed to fall into place.
As we entered the woods I figured I was likely about the 7-8th female, and knew that there was a pair just ahead of me that I would catch in a few miles. I didn't worry about it too much and enjoyed the gentle ups and downs and sure enough before the first aid station at 4.5 they were well behind me, and I wasn't going to see them again. I flew through the first aid station around 38 minutes only slowing down long enough to ensure that the next one was only 4.3 miles away. I hadn't planned on clearing the first aid station that fast, but I felt so good that I figured I'd just go with it. However, I did make a conscious effort to pay a little more attention to pace on the next section.
About halfway through the next section I spotted another pair of ladies making their way up the hill. Being a decent uphill hiker, I went to work. Shortly after the hill and before the single track resumed, I put them behind me as well. These ladies were a bit more talented though, and while they were definitely behind me I could still hear them chatting, and see them on the switchbacks. So when we came out of the woods at aid station number 2, I just kept on going. I love the time I save by wearing a hydration pack and carrying most of my own supplies! My strategy worked, as they must have pulled off for sustenance and I didn't see them again the entire race.
The third section was one of the longest and one of the most technically challenging ones of the race. It started off on more smooth trail but eventually wound down and back up through the hills and over to a set of stairs that led down to the base of a gorgeous waterfall. Once at the base of the waterfall the course ran along the ravine through the mud and over some downed trees criss-crossing back and forth across a creek a little ways down from the water fall. Eventually the trail ran into a natural ladder made of tree roots. This short little climb was like something out of Jack and the Bean Stock. It was very unique and added a level of fun to my day. Once up the ladder, the rest of the section was fairly uneventful. But eventually after a very steep descent and a short run on a gravel road I arrived at aid station number 3, covered bridge.
This was the first aid station that I paused at. I paused just long enough to down some fluids and grab part of a PB&J. And then I was off again. I was 15 miles in and feeling great. A few miles later I hit my first rough spot. Literally. Stubbed my toe on something and went rolling down the trail. Got up and everything seemed mostly okay; but I had definitely twisted my left ankle a bit. After a minute or two of walking I went on running down the trail, trying to be a little more mindful of the rocks, and taking note that I might need to have that looked at at the halfway point. At some point I made it to the top of Hickory Ridge, and skipped the aid station again as I went on down the path and back to the start / halfway point.
This section was 6.2 miles of mostly downhill, but there were several sections laden with toe grabbers. I fell a second time, stubbed my right toe so hard I gave myself a sinister bruise, and caught myself from falling several other times. However the most sinister part of this section is being able to look down to the right about 4.5 miles into the section and see the aid station. But instead of going right at the end of the trail, you go left and up another hill.
Somewhere close to 4:35 I finished the first loop. I spent a few minutes at this aid station filling my water, changing shoes, and finding my pack of Oreos I had tucked into my drop bag. By 4:42 I was 26.8 miles in and back on the trail. I was so happy to finally have Oreos to eat instead of Gu for the next few miles! I blazed through the first section of the second loop, and actually barely PR'd my 50K time making it to the aid station (31.1) around 5:25. The second section also went pretty smoothly. These sections were definitely my favorite, on both loops. Super runable, with hills spaced perfectly for hiking breaks.
At the second aid station I stopped long enough to grab some watermelon, and a piece of a sugar cookie and PB&J and took off down the only "new" section on the second loop. A 2.6 mile section that steeply descends down a less traveled trail, but makes the course come out to an even 50. On this section, (35+ miles in) I started to feel some fatigue. But I was still cruising, and made the 2.6 mile jaunt just under my estimated time for the section. (I estimate as I go in order to give myself small goals along the course.)
At this point in the day (38+ miles in) I was starting to tire; but I knew I was well on my way to having an amazing race. I went strong for what was likely another 2 or so miles, but the last ten miles were a struggle. Eventually I recognized the trail enough to push to the last aid station on top of Hickory Ridge, and I even managed to complete the 5.5 mile segment in my estimated time. But by the time I got to Hickory Ridge, I was pretty well spent. At mile 43.7, I had been running for roughly 7 hrs and 58 minutes, and I had another 6.3 miles to go.
The final section was a very long 10K. It was a struggle for me to not walk when the terrain got hard, or the downhills became steep. I knew that I was already going to have a massive PR, and a pretty good finish. It seemed to drag on forever. Eventually though, I made it back to the campground. And the last 800m, I even had someone to chase. It turns out that they were too far ahead of me for me to catch, (I needed another 100m!), but in the end I finished in 9:09:42, a 34 minute PR! I also ended up being the 4th female, and 16th runner overall! A second top 20 finish for an ultra!!
All in all I had a fantastic day at on the Mohican trails, and I highly recommend this race to both veterans, and newbies alike. I am seriously tempted to go back for the 100 next year.
|Race Medal and first monetary award for placing in a race!|