A friend on facebook posted about her planned trip up to Nashville, Indiana to run the Dances With Dirt 50k and once I realized they had a half, I was in. And, I managed to convince fellow trail runner and coworker Lauren along for the ride! Plus, the promotional video made it seem so enticing...
I made my way north, from one Nashville to the other, slightly smaller counterpart in Indiana. It rained a lot of the way up, and I was hoping the storms would pass before I made it to the campsite. Lauren and fellow trailrunner/coworker Kurt had been kind enough to set up my tent for me after their voyage to the campsite a little earlier in the day. I arrive around midnight, tired, and ready to crawl in to my sleeping bag. Sleep came fitfully, with some small rain showers throughout the night and it wasn't long until we were up to watch the start of the 50k and 50 mile races and cheer on friends. A brief trip back to camp for a change of clothes and a quick nap, and we headed back to the starting line for our own adventures.
Lauren, Daryl, and I were all running the half together, and while Lauren and I had run together on roads, it had been awhile since we'd hit the trails together. She figured that the three of us would all be pretty similar in terms of pace and ability though and so we grouped up together at the start to hit the trails. We were all a little intimidated by the elevation changes, I was dealing with some intense calf tightness, and we all felt a little underprepared. We reasonably set the expectation to finish in under three hours. We figured that a half marathon was comparable to three loops on the red trail out at Percy Warner Park, a 4.5 mile loop. Since I knew it took me about an hour a loop, completing the half in three hours seemed both doable and enough of a challenge to push us on the course.
Lauren set out at a blazing pace, and as I struggled to keep up with her during the initial climb, I realized about a half mile in that we had already lost Daryl. Settling in to a pace, and picking my "rabbit" (The person I chose to follow during my runs and trust to set a reasonable pace), I settled in to a rhythm.
My calves locked up during that first climb, but once I got a couple miles in, they warmed up and stretched out, and I began to really get in to a groove. I had lost sight of Lauren, but was gradually picking my way through the field, occasionally getting passed, and occassionally passing others. I came to the first aid station at about the 3.5 mile mark and grabbed some gatorade to supplement the water I was already carrying.
I felt kind of bad for a moment, as I approached a young couple out running and settled in behind them, making them my new "rabbits." They offered to let me pass and I explained,
Thanks, but I'm just gonna follow you.
You run, I run. You walk, I walk. It takes all the thinking out of running.
It's about this time, I finally caught a glimpse of Lauren ahead of me on the trail a few hundred feet. I yelled out to her that I was coming and hiked a little faster up the hill to join her for the rest of the race. It was nice to have someone to talk to, complain with, and to suffer alongside. Within a few miles, Daryl had caught up to us as well and our little group was reunited before we reached the second water stop around mile 8.
Once at the bottom, we reached the stream crossing, which felt GLORIOUS. After a long, hot run, even the added wet of wet shoes couldn't diminish the joy from cooling off your legs and feet. It felt so good I wanted to simply lay down in it and never leave, but with only a half a mile to go until we were done, we kept on trucking. When we finished, we had come in at 2 hours, 42 minutes, about 18 minutes ahead of our estimated finish time. Not too shabby! Overall, I finished 6th out of 16 females in my age group and 89th out of 168 half marathoners total. With cold beers and food waiting for us, it was good to be done and to have knocked this one off the list.
I know that I still have a ways to go in my training before I'll feel ready for StumpJump in October, but this race really did help me get a better understanding of where I am at right now and what I need to do in order to be prepared. (Namely, more time on my feet and more miles!) I've already decided I'll be back for more and intend to run the 50k next year at GnawBone! I can't wait!
Have you ever used one race to help gauge how prepared you are for a different race?
TELL ME! :)