TARC Spring Classic Marathon "Not a Race" Report
Last Saturday I participated in the TARC Spring Classic Trail Marathon. This is a "not a race" report because my main goal was to use this course as a training run, practicing pacing and nutrition strategies, and to just have fun while running 26.2 miles in the woods with friends. I have tried to use races as "training runs" or to do them "for fun" in the past but this is the first time I can say that I did that successfully without letting my competitiveness get the best of me. I had originally signed up for the 50k distance, but after deciding to join White Pine Distance Training and make the Vegan Power 50k in June my goal race, I dropped down to the marathon distance. Also, it was my husband's first marathon ever so it felt special to be sharing the same experience as him that day and also to be taking the focus off of me that morning, and make it more about him and his big achievement.
The morning of the race, the weather was pretty cool and it was lightly raining. I had heard that the course can get pretty muddy, so I had already prepared myself for it. I was dressed in my Strong Hearts Vegan Power tank and a pair of shorts, so waiting around at the starting line was pretty chilly, but I knew that it would warm up as soon as the clouds parted and the sun came out. This morning was a big test for my nutrition strategy for Vegan Power 50k. I had recently started trying out Tailwind, which meant this was my first marathon ever without gels. It felt a little strange to be at the starting line with just a handheld filled with liquid.. no waistbelt, no headphones, no phone altogether. Running in the woods I prefer to go wireless and just listen to the sounds of nature, chat with other runners, and focus on the trail ahead of me. I find it a lot more therapeutic to not have music blaring in my ears, and to just let my mind wander while being attentive to my footing. I was definitely nervous going into the race about how my stomach and energy levels would react to just drinking Tailwind the entire 4 hours or so. I have a lot of digestive issues that have been a problem during races in the past. I also worried about not drinking enough calories and then "bonking", which I am blessed to have never done before.
The race was a 10k loop, marathoners running a short out-and-back, then completing four loops. The first few miles were pretty hard to maneuver. There were about 400 runners at the race, a handful of which started the 10k distance 15 minutes prior to when I started, but that still left quite a few runners on the beginning single-track part of the course. Although I was slightly frustrated at this, I kept in mind that I still had miles to go to "make up for time" if I felt the need to do so, but going slow at the start is always the best bet in a race this long anyways. The course was mostly flat and single-track, with some wider trails where you can really open up and pass other runners. I tried to just wait until these opportunities to pass, as I hate squeezing by runners as they are trying to focus on their own race. However, somewhere around Mile 4, there was a group of runners running side-by-side on a single-track part of the trail. I politely said "on your left" and ran as fast as possible to get around them as to not be inconveniencing them. One of them spoke up and made the comment "were you late to the starting line or something???". And I just said "Nah, I just was trying to get around the cluster of runners". There was a female marathoner in the group (I could tell by the yellow bib; different colored bibs for each distance). After making some other sly remakes referring to my Strong Hearts Vegan Power tank, they yelled "Go get her!!" to the female in the group. I turned around and the female had separated from her posse and started chasing me! I knew at that point from scoping out bib-colors that I was somewhere at the "top of the pack" of female marathoners at the race, but I was not trying to be competitive and just wanted to focus on having a solid training run. Regardless of this person chasing me, I didn't speed up and just kept reminding myself "this is your race, run it how you feel". By the time I got back to the start/finish at the end of the first 10k loop, the female runner was gone from behind me. At the aid station, I didn't even stop running because I wasn't eating and still had enough Tailwind in my handheld for another loop (as planned). Heading back into the woods, I ran past the female in the opposite direction as she was approaching the start/finish and made sure to say "great job!" as I passed by. I wasn't racing anyone today and I wanted to make that as clear as possible.
The second loop I caught up with some familiar faces and good conversations made the miles tick by. Since the start of the race, I was power-hiking all the "climbs" the course had, which was not many, even though I felt I could run them. The mud was bearable, although there were a lot of slippery wooden planks to run across. After having a really bad fall at the Hale Reservation while running across a similar scene, I stopped and walked all of them. It started to rain a little heavier, but as the temperature increased, the cool water felt very nice. I made sure to finish all the liquid in my handheld, as there was a pre-mixed bottle waiting for me in my drop bag at the start/finish for the second half of the race. I ran through the start/finish line for the second time, grabbed my bottle from a soaking wet drop bag (did not noticed how heavy it was actually raining at the time) and took off running again.
The third loop seemed to go by a lot slower. My pace was about the same, although it is difficult to tell when your running trails because the terrain makes your pace vary from mile to mile. My effort felt the same and that was what was most important to me. Running conservatively, but also not slowing down a lot and pushing until the end. Around mile 18 I started to feel the "everything hurts and I am dying" symptoms of running a marathon. I actually suspected that these sort of pains would come sooner than they did because of running my highest mileage week ever the week before the race and not tapering other than taking an extra rest day. Since this was my 3rd marathon, and my 4th time running 26.2 miles or more, I am becoming more familiar with how running these long distances feels and am able to tell what is normal soreness/pain and tell myself that it's not going to get much worse from that point until the finish line. It's almost like the pain greets me, shakes my hand, then tags along for the rest of the race. Pain and I are becoming friends.
I drank my entire second bottle of tailwind during the 3rd loop. It stopped raining and became a lot hotter, so I was chugging the liquids. I got a side cramp but it went away after I chatted with a 50k runner for a little bit. I think the change in breathing helped detour that situation. At the next stop at the start/finish, I refilled my water bottle with Tailwind from their aid station. My friend handed me some watermelon too which tasted AMAZING at the time. Watermelon in hand, I took off for the last loop, eager to get the show on the road. It got pretty lonely out there on the last loop. All of the 10k runners were done and most of the half-marathoners. Throughout the morning, I had only seen one yellow-bibbed female in front of me, so I had assumed I was in second place. Mid-way through the last loop, I saw a female approaching me closer and closer. This prompted me to take off sprinting up climbs that I had been power-hiking previously and to run faster than I knew I should've been. My attempt at losing her failed and as she approached, I slowed down and gave her a "go get it!" as she zoomed by. Third place as ok with me too, really anything was ok with me at this point, I was ready to be done. Not because I was in a lot of pain or felt terrible, in fact I felt the best I have ever during a marathon, but because I had no idea where my husband was out on the course, and all I could think about was whether or not he was having the race he wanted. I saw him for a split second during a part of the course with two-way traffic, but couldn't really tell how far behind me he was. This day was really about him and I was worried about how things were going, although I knew he had trained hard and had all faith in him. As I approached the finish line, I saw my Nana and mother-in-law cheering me on, which meant a lot to me. Trail running is so important to me, and this was my first trail race that any of my family was attending. I sprinted across the finish line, and immediately turned around to ask the person in charge of timing what my results were. When he said I was the 4th female to finish the marathon, I was slightly heartbroken. Fourth female??? Where did the other chick come from! It took a minute or two to dust off my ego, before telling myself that I had a great race and who cares what my standings were. My goal time was 4:30 and I finished in 4:19:01. 4th female and 10th overall. Most importantly, I didn't "race" that morning, my stomach felt great, and I had a blast chatting with other runners and just enjoying the course. My husband finished in 4:50:34. and seeing him cross the finish line was the best part of the whole race! (Finishing 20 minutes ahead of the female runner who tried to chase me, and who's friends did not have proper trail-tude, was pretty awesome as well). I feel excited and ready to conquer the Vegan Power 50k now!