TARC To Hale & Back 6-Hour
Even though I was just using it as a training run for Cayuga Trails 50 in June, I was really excited about my first race of the year as it sort of sets the tone for the Spring 2017 season, and it's also exciting to see everyone you haven't seen all winter. TARC To Hale & Back 6-hour (and 5k) was my first timed-event. It takes place at the Hale Reservation in Westwood, MA where the TARC 100-miler took place (R.I.P.). It's where I ran my first 20-miler a year and a half ago, and where I've had countless other memorable runs and experiences. Hale has a special place in my heart for sure. Last year I ran the TARC To Hale & Back 5k and came in 2nd female/3rd overall out of small field and I really wanted to come back this year for the 6-hour. The course consists of 3.5 mile loops of everything you can imagine. Beaches, pavement, rocks, roots, technical single-track and hills, a little over 300 feet of gain per loop. You run as many loops as you can in the 6-hours, no partial loops. The difference between this year and last year was the amount of snow we had leading up to race day. Even with some warm temps a few days before, there was still 6 inches of snow in some parts, no ice, but lots of slush and mud. Plus cold temperatures and some light occasional rain on race day.
Since this was a training run, there was no taper for this race and between increasing mileage and strength training, my legs were feeling pretty heavy before I even started. I got plenty of rest the night before and got up extra early for breakfast that morning. I knew with the course conditions and tired legs, any mileage goals I had was out the window, but I wanted to at least practice race day nutrition and pacing. It was balmy in Medford so I dressed for warmer temps, but when we arrive at Hale it felt so much cooler. It was also raining at the start, so that didn't help the situation. I started off in the middle of the pack, as I didn't even want to know who was ahead of me, this wasn't to be that sort of race. I immediately picked up conversations with runners around me and the first loop flew by. I was pleasantly surprised by the trail conditions, I thought they'd be a lot worse, and some of the snowy downhill sections were actually a lot of fun to cruise down. I had on my rain jacket, hat and gloves, so by the end of the loop I was burning up. I ran through the start/finish tossing clothing off, but immediately regretted that once I was a mile into the next loop. Sweating under the rain jacket and hat on the first loop left me super cold and It was really windy on the beach sections as well. Luckily the loops were short, and I was reunited with my hat at mile 7. I grabbed some food and tried to sneak by my puppy (my "crew" for the day) who was unattended by my husband, but she saw me, chased after me, and then became hysterical when I left. I could hear her barking and crying for a few minutes after and it broke my heart! Luckily, on future loops my husband was with her and she was much less hysterical.
One big thing my coach wanted me to practice with this race was pacing. My heart rate on my watch wasn't working (per usual) so I tried to pace by feel and power hike all the hills, even ones I felt I could run. I actually used the hills to take a breath or eat. I cruised on the downhills, because I love downhill running, then kept it easy on the flats. Even when chatting with other runners, I tried to really focus on every move, making sure I wasn't getting caught up in chasing conversations, or slowing down, which meant I was alone most of the time, but that's fine with me as well. I'm socially awkward anyways!
I thought the looped course would become monotonous, but I actually really enjoyed it. It allowed me to let my mind wander and not have to focus so much on which way the course went. And it was great to see the back of the pack as well. I passed a lot of happy familiar faces. Also, getting to see my husband and pup, and my drop bag every 40 minutes was a plus. I had my sleeves pulled down so I couldn't see my watch, I didn't want to start counting down hours, but somewhere around hour 3, I started feeling pretty sore from all the slipping and sliding. As the hours went on, the mud got worse in parts, and the snow got packed down and extremely slippery. Luckily I was walking the uphills anyways because they were not runnable anymore. I wouldn't say I hit a "low point" but I definitely hit a "this snow can go fuck it's-self point". For nutrition, I usually just drink Tailwind on longer races, but since my stomach has been going a-wall after 20 miles, I wanted to experiment with solid foods. I packed mini Larabars, Huma gels and ClifBloks, but I tried to just eat whatever felt good. At one point I was running with pretzel rods in my hand, which at the time I thought was HILARIOUS. I tried to pass a runner as I was chewing and nearly choked trying to saw "on your left". I don't think he found it as funny as I thought it was at the time. Occasionally, I'd put Tailwind in my bottle, but it didn't sit right with me and I'd end up tossing it. Looks like I'm done with that sweet, sweet powder.
Towards the end of the race, I knew that I'd finish 28 miles around 5hrs30mins (so damn slow!), so I wouldn't have enough time for another 3.5 mile loop. I teetered on the idea of just going out for a 9th loop anyways and coming back after the 6-hours ended, but I was getting pretty cold, and I wanted to be able to get back to 50-mile training right away. Another 3.5 miles could've made recovery take a little longer since I hadn't run more than 20 miles in months. Knowing that I'd be done in under 6-hours and at mile 28 versus 31.5 definitely boosted my vibes and that last loop felt great. I was passing runners who were ahead of me the whole race. I ended the race feeling like I had another loop in me, but content with how the day went. I thought I was 3rd female, possibly 4th, but later in the day I found out I was actually 2nd (10th overall)! I ended up with 28 miles in 5:32:37 and 2,992 feet of gain, a solid sense of pacing on a hilly course (although I did slow down a little with the course conditions worsening), and great nutrition practice. I think that was the first time running that distance without some sort of stomach problems. Perfect training running for Cayuga and a great way to start the year!
Lap 1 (3.5 miles)- 38 mins 42 secs
Lap 2 (7 miles)- 39 mins 50 secs
Lap 3 (10.5 miles)- 40 mins 4 secs
Lap 4 (14 miles)- 40 mins 48 secs
Lap 5 (17.5 miles)- 42 mins 33 secs
Lap 6 (21 miles)- 43 mins 36 secs
Lap 7 (24.5 miles)- 43 mins 2 secs
Lap 8 (28 miles)- 44 mins