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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Consistency and My First Ultra Win

Saturday Dec. 7, marked another anniversary of Pearl Harbor. It also marked the first Houston Area Trail Runners (HATRs) race, fun run, or speak easy run if you will on the Ho Chi Minh trails in Memorial Park, Houston. The race almost didn't happen due to issues with permits and potential flooding/ park trail closures. Luckily, the HATR group is headed up by an awesome guy, Rob Goyen, that went to battle with both the city and the park so that we could have our event. The catch was no advertising, and no signage could be put up at the run. Hence why I am referring to it as a speak easy race (the difference being, we weren't doing anything illegal - just playing by the city's specific rules). 

The race brought out some fun loving trail and ultra runners, as being a 6 hr event - there are no DNFs. The course was a 5 mile loop on the Ho Chi Minh trails, which is the premium spot for trail running within Houston city limits. All runners were invited to run as many laps as they wanted to or could complete within the 6 hour limit. 

The fun kicked off promptly at 6am with a nearly 60 runners crazy enough to brave the frigid temps (for Houston) and not scared off by the threat of a little water falling from the sky or mud on the ground. For the record, even this Yankee thought it was downright COLD at 27 degrees. 

As the race started I situated myself near the front, I'd say top 10 - an uncharacteristic move on my part; but I had a feeling that I really had a shot of doing well. Besides, with the amount of single track, I didn't want to get pushed too far to the back with the start. 

We started down the trail heading in the opposite direction of what I am used to running with the HATR group on Saturday and Sunday mornings.  It was incredibly dark and cold. After a few minutes of trying to stay with the rabbits to both warm up more quickly, and use the extra light offered by their headlamps, I settled into what seemed like a slow but maintainable pace. I had a feeling that this first night lap might be a bit slower than I wanted; but since I usually have the opposite problem, I was okay with that.  The trail winds quite a bit and has some nice little rollers the majority of the way. So once I got far enough back that I had to rely on my own light, I definitely proceeded cautiously, stopping a few times to check for markers, and yelling to the folks behind me where there were trees to jump over or duck under, sharp turns, or poor footing. I was especially careful to do this after I heard someone not too far back trip over some knarly roots. 

After what seemed like far longer than 2.5 miles I made it to the 1/2 way aid station with a group of 3-5 other guys running close to me. As we proceeded to the Bayou crossing, we got a little hung up and went slightly off course before a few runners with better eyes than our group tracked down the markers and got us back on course. 

From here, the course flies! It's a undulating single track that just winds around the outskirts of the park. This part of the loop has the best footing by far, and I could feel that I was making up time. I was warming up, and starting to wish I hadn't worn sleeves or gloves. In around 53 minutes I am through lap 1, and told that I am indeed the first female.

This news was pretty exciting. I'd never won a trail race before, so I had every intent of staying where I had positioned myself.  The sun was starting to come up and by the time I finished the second loop I felt super awake and ready to race.  At this point I still hadn't stopped for aid, as I was fully loaded with Gus and my 2L Nathan Hydration pack - my own sneaky time saving measure for ultra racing. :) And as I went by the aid station, I checked my watch and sure enough - I was about a minute faster.

The 3rd loop was one of the most fun loops, I was lapping some of the runners and enjoying myself immensely on the windy single track while I shouted words of encouragement to everyone I encountered.  I was down right chipper. And I was haulin'!  I finished this lap in 48 minutes and some change and was super thrilled that I was negative splitting an ultra! What the heck!!! Heading out for lap 4, I was determined to try to negative split the whole darn thing, and flew around the next 5 miles in 47:51, fast enough to claim the fastest female loop time prize for the event.  Yowza's.  

At this point I was pretty confident I was going to win the women's and just needed to hang on for a few more laps - my goal was to finish 30 miles in 1st for the women, and juuuussst over 5 hours so I wouldn't be allowed to start another loop.  I know, a bit of a slacker's aspiration....but it was COLD still, and 30 was my ideal distance for the week having only 1 other long run being the 26.2 mile training run I ran the Sunday before, and a long year of racing planned for 2014.

Lap 5 was a little unremarkable, I did start getting a little tired, but still did a good job maintaining pace coming through the loop in 49:22, which was just about perfect for my aforementioned goals, and my dream of negative splitting a freaking ultra distance event! As I got into lap 6, I debated how badly my legs felt and whether I should go for 35 miles.  As I approached the water crossing and came upon one female I had not seen previously during the race that was moving pretty well, I thought I might HAVE to run 35 to ensure she didn't catch me again!  A few minutes later I realized that 30 would be sufficient and put it in cruise control to coast in to the finish in 5:00:30, a PR trail 30 mile time, and on pace for what would have been a significant 50K PR.  As I got to the aid station, Rob told me I had 1 minute to start another loop if I wanted to. And I told him, that I was good, I timed it perfectly - I ran the fastest 30 miler I could without feeling obligated to run 35!

In the end I was 1st female and 4th overall. And I couldn't have been happier with my first ultra experience in Texas!  (I do hope it's a little warmer for the next one though!).  And despite slowing a little on the last 2 laps, my second 15 miles wound up being almost 4 minutes faster than my first 15 miles, and it was the most consistent I have ever run an ultra from start to finish. I couldn't be more excited to train and race here in 2014.

Happy Trails Everyone!

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