Vegan Power 50k
It has taken me a long time to actually sit down and write this. I didn't want the race to be over. I had trained for it for months, had an amazing race, and then it was done. Over. I won. I was excited and happy, but yet I couldn't help but feel sad. I started with a new coach who had asked that I take two weeks off from training, the first week with no running at all. I went from training for my goal race, to winning, then to nothing. The past year or so, I've jumped from training for one race, right into training for the next. I've never had a moment to stop and reflect on my life without running, and the post-race blues hit me hard. After a much needed vacation with a good friend, I was able to gain some clarity and focus on my goals ahead. I took exactly (even down to the hours) 7 days off from running, and then did some easy runs the second week, and now I have officially begun marathon training. I'll get into that later, but first here is how race went down..
The night before the race my husband and I got a hotel room about 20 minutes away from the starting line. I stayed up to wait for a friend to arrive, who was going to spend the night with us, and then spent the rest of the night tossing and turning, unable to sleep. I think I was finally able to fall asleep around 1am, and had to wake up at 4:30am to eat breakfast. I should have been exhausted that morning, but my excitement about the big day made me feel wide awake (plus coffee). I ate breakfast and headed out with my husband, who was running his first 50k that day, on his 30th birthday. Took some convincing, and maybe some beers, to get him to sign up, but either way I was thrilled to be able to share this day with him out there on the course.
The Vegan Power 50k takes place in Pittsfield State Forest in Pittsfield, MA (the Berkshires). It is a 5-mile loop course that you run 6 times. Each loop has about 400 ft of elevation gain, much less than my previous 50k. A couple things previous runners had said about the course was that there are a lot of roots, and there are a lot of twists and turns. I took this all into consideration when setting pace goals and expectations. My A-goal was 5hrs 15mins, B-goal was 5hrs 30mins, and C-goal was 5hrs 45mins. The previous female winner for the 50k (there was also a 25k and 3-person relay option) was not participating this year. I knew I could place in the top 3, but as far as winning, I didn't want to stress myself out about that possibility. There was a lot of talk before the race about me winning this years' race, and I tried to brush it off and just focus on finishing under a goal time. That was made even more difficult when I was told that since I was the first person to sign up for the race, I would be wearing bib #1!
The starting line was filled with familiar faces. A lot of Strong Hearts Vegan Power teammates were participating in all of the different distances. I made sure to get right up to the front of the crowd. In previous races, I've felt some stress of not knowing where I stood, how many females were ahead of me. I wanted to ensure that I would know right away where I was in the race. The race begins immediately uphill on the only paved portion of the course, then turns left into the woods where there is some more uphill sections with wider paths. After that, there is some slight downhill, and the course leaves the woods, and re-enters on single-track trails. The first aid station was slightly less than two miles into the 5-mile loop. I carried just a handheld water bottle, with my fuel of choice, my new found love, Tailwind. The first loop flew by. I was just so happy and excited to be there. I got a little bit of a side cramp the first loop, probably from nerves, but it went away after a few miles. I held back my pace a little, keeping in mind what the previous female winner said about the twists and turns becoming exhausting after a couple loops. I finished the first loop under pace for that I wanted to accomplish, and with no other females in sight. When I got to the start/finish, the excitement of being in the lead hit me hard. I grabbed a single-serve packet of tailwind and headed back up the paved road. I used this section each loop to open the packet and fill my bottle. Note: Those packets are SO hard to open! The second and third loop went as smoothly as the first. I found my groove. I was smiling from ear to ear, but focused. The course was just as it had been described, but I had definitely underestimated it. I am used to running technical trails covered in rocks and roots, but the amount of roots on this course was just ridiculous. However, it wasn't the roots that made this course difficult, for me at least, it was the twists and turns. I had been told that this wasn't a "fast" course, and it certainly wasn't. It was hard to push my pace on the more runnable sections, because of the constant turning. It was starting to become exhausting mentally and physically. When I made it to the start/finish area the third time, there were even more familiar faces at the starting line, because the 25k race was about to start. The encouragement from friends left me feeling strong and confident, and I was excited to be halfway done.
The second half of the race was when the real adventure began. When I got to the the "halfway" aid station the fourth time, a fellow team mate was there. I said hello as I filled my water bottle, then took off running hard on a slight downhill, tripping and falling right into a tree. I got up and starting running again before anyone could say anything, praying no one saw me (I later found out that the fall wasn't seen, but definitely heard). The fell bruised my ego a bit and with my slowing pace, I was beginning to feel nervous about where the second place female was. I did my research beforehand, and knew that there were second time finishing females, if faster than the previous year, that would give me a run for my money. I was constantly looking behind me in anticipation and nervousness, then slam. I was on the ground again. I passed by the photographer, who was there each loop but always in different spots and who I actually looked forward to seeing each loop. He said "you're way ahead of the second female". This meant I could relax a little but before finishing the fourth loop, I fell one more time. I fell 3 times within 5 miles! As I passed through the aid station this time, I put on a smile and said "I'm a little dirty now!". Even if I was starting to hurt and felt a little disappointed about falling so much, I wasn't going to let anyone else know that. Luckily on my fifth loop, I managed to stay on my feet. Although moving a little slower, I saw some more familiar faces out on the course, which lifted my spirits. I was still worried about the second place female, but I kept telling myself that I just need to get to that last loop. When I got to the start/finish the fifth time, the race director jumped up and said "wait, is she finishing??!", and I yelled "one more loop!". Seeing her excitement over me about to finish, even if I wasn't, made the reality of me possibly winning this race sink in.
The last loop was the hardest. Not just because I had been running for hours, but I was so paranoid about being passed by the second place female. I had been in the lead the whole race, and I wanted to win now. In a previous race, I was passed by a runner just a couple miles from finishing a marathon, putting me in 4th place, rather than 3rd. I was having flashbacks of this in my mind, and constantly looking around for her. I thought about all the hard work I had done to get to this point. I thought of all my friends who had been supporting me throughout the day. I thought about my husband who was out there somewhere, hopefully having a good race, and not cursing my name for convincing him to sign up. And I thought about the previous female winner, Laura Kline, who is a big inspiration to me, and had mentioned "passing the torch" this year onto another winner. I wanted to be that person. She had been there with me in spirit the whole race and I wanted to make her proud. I wanted to make my family and friends proud, and I wanted to make myself proud. I was ready to get this done. I saw the photographer once again, who was slightly hidden this time and I was taken by surprise by his presence. Moments after passing him, slam. Back on the ground. This was the hardest fall of all, but yet I probably got up the quickest from it (another fall not witnessed, but heard from others). I knew I was about 2 miles from finishing when I saw a female runner gaining speed on me. I tried to run faster, but my effort was poor. When she reached a few feet behind me, I turned around and said "are you running the 50k or 25k?". She replied with "25k!". That was the best thing I heard all day. I let her fly by, and then slammed my toe right into a wooden bridge. Apparently, after running close to 30 miles my ability to lift my foot up onto bridges is extinguished. As I was beginning to see the parked cars ahead near the finish line, I started to get emotional. I reached the pavement and saw an entire audience of friends ahead. My thoughts went from "oh my god, I actually won" to "shit, am I suppose to run through that??" as the race director pulled the tape out ahead of me. I ran through, and was filled with a rush of emotions as I started to cry and hug my friends. First place at a 50k. How did that happen? Just a couple years ago I was struggling to run a 2.35 mile trail race, and now I was finishing my second 50k. The second female finished about 45 minutes later. I couldn't believe I had actually done it. My husband finished his race, and although he ended up being a little over his goal time, he seemed to have a good time, and is now moving on to training for his second 50k!
I can't thank all my friends who were there enough for being so supportive and encouraging, and my husband for putting up with my pre-race craziness. Ana Wolf was an amazing race director, and along with Ben Griffin and Jake Dissinger the race was run so smoothly and the course was very well marked. The race raised a large amount of money for the Vine Sanctuary, which is an added bonus to participating in this race. Hopefully I will be back next year!
Finishing time- 5:33:25; Elevation gain- 3,768ft (according to my Garmin, I think it was more like 2,500ft)
Here was my splits:
Lap 1- 48:30
Lap 2- 50:57
Lap 3- 53:06
Lap 4- 58:12
Lap 5- 1:00:42
Lap 6- 1:01:55