After the Muddy River Half Marathon, which I didn’t really race, I decided I wanted to do another running race before IM Chattanooga, and was leaning towards more of an ultra distance. After perusing Ultrasignup, I saw a local ultra club was putting on a 6 hour timed event nearby in early July. Perfect! No travel, it would be right after Steelhead 70.3 and then after this race I would start to build up for Chattanooga.
Training for Steelhead went well, and since this was a ‘fun’ race, my coach didn’t have me do anything extra in training regarding running to prepare for this race (or really to avoid risking injury before Steelhead as that was a more important race to me). So the focus after Steelhead was to recover the week after and then be ready to get some big miles in for this race.
This was my first time racing a timed ultra running event. I thought it would be similar to the Queeny Backyard Ultra, but it was so very different! The format is to run a 2.4 mile loop as many times as you can, until 5.5 hours when you will be switched to running a .3 mile loop. The winner (male and female) are the ones who have ran the most miles in the timed six hours. This was going to be interesting! I went into it with a goal of at least 30 miles but was hoping to get in a few more, but never having done this format (or distance this far in such warm temps) I wasn’t sure how things would go.
Packet pickup started at 4p (the race started at 6p), so I arrived a little after 4 to try to get a good parking spot as the run course goes through the parking lot and you can set up an aid station next to your car. I lucked out and got a decent spot and then just hung out for an hour or so. I was a little nervous, but having a few ultras under my belt helped with my confidence and the fact that this was a ‘fun’ race for me along with the atmosphere being 100% chill helped too. And really, I was competing against myself, and any distance I finish would be a PR since I’ve never run a timed 6 hour race before 🙂
Soon we lined up to the start area for a few pre-race rules/information and promptly at 6p we were off! I had debated wearing music since I hardly needed it at Queeny, but I saw many people with headphones at the start and decided I would have them in but could turn them off. It was a good plan because once we were off, everyone was very quiet, no chit chat, just off and running. After a couple of miles I could tell that the vibe of this much different than a backyard ultra in that we were racing the clock, and there was no forced rest period between loops, so people were focused, just like a road race (which most of the race was on the road or a gravel path).
My first couple of splits were high 8’s, low 9’s, which I knew was too fast, so finally around mile 5 I slowed it down. I also was just taking sips of water during each mile, and had planned to refill my water after three loops, but since my bottle felt pretty full still after 3 loops, I skipped stopping to ‘save’ time. By the time I rolled in after the 4th loop I still had water in my bottle but decided to refill. I tried to be as fast and efficient as possible and was out of there in 30 seconds or so.
I was keeping a good pace until around mile 14.5 when I stopped to refill for a second time (this time only after two loops, I was SO thirsty) taking a little longer and then was off, but I could feel my pace start to slow. I think the heat and being behind on hydration had caught up to me, as taking small sips of water every mile in the beginning was not a good plan and I should have definitely stopped after three loops to refill. At mile 15 I did my first walk break and started questioning why I was doing this, and also around this time my left hamstring started to speak up (which has given me issues on and off since Queeny). I ran/walked, looking at my watch and realized it hadn’t even been 3 hours yet, oh lord. How was I going to do this for another 3 hours? At this point I was wondering if I could just stop at 3 hours and head out. However since I was parked on the run course I wasn’t sure if I would even be able to get out. I knew this was my last chance to race until Chattanooga and I had mentally been ready to go into the pain cave for this race, I guess I just hadn’t expected to enter it so soon (and being honest, after 2 hours I was already suffering). So after thinking about it a little more while walking/shuffling, I knew in the end, despite how I was feeling already, this would be good experience – another ‘dig deep’ mental toughness building experience, so… despite my brain screaming ‘This is ridiculous, we are running 2.4 mile loops in the heat of July… for fun…solo.. in silence (other than headphones)!!’, I kept going. I decided I would really try to do at least 30 miles.
Around 9p the sun started to set (or maybe it was closer to 8:30ish) and I grabbed my headlamp, and was looking forward to the cooler temps with the sun being down. It was around this time that I also stopped feeling SO thirsty too. What a relief. At one refill stop before the sun had set I picked up my entire jug of water and started chugging. Yeah, lesson learned on my early hydration fail. Since I had run in the dark during Queeny, I felt a little more prepared/less scared and once my headlamp went on, it still seemed a little creepy but also peaceful. There was so much moisture in the air, the grass and trees had a weird shine to them, almost looking 4d which was quite trippy. I saw deer, a possum, a chunky raccoon as well as heard several coyote, which made me run faster! There was some walking during the last three hours, but much less than the first half where I was having my mini-mental-meltdown, however my pace had settled closer to a 10/11 pace.
I started doing math to figure out how many more ‘big’ loops I could do before I would need to start the .3 mile loop. The race director said they start redirecting to the little loop at 5.5 hours, and based on my math I should be able to get in 13 big loops which would get me to 31ish miles, knowing that I would still have 20+ minutes for the little loops, I decided that 33 miles would be my next goal. Once I headed in to finish the last big loop, something happened, I am not sure if it was being around other runners again (most of the race I was running solo) or the excitement of only having 20ish minutes left or what, but my legs found new energy and I felt like I was flying. In reality I was running 10ish minute miles, but it sure felt fast! I managed to get in 6 little loops bringing my total to 33.523 miles. I did it!
We all hung out at the finish during the final few minutes as the last of the runners came in at the midnight cutoff, and we all cheered once it hit midnight, which was really cool to experience the comradery since the race itself felt very solo. They did awards quickly after, and I managed to come in 3rd female, however they only gave awards to first female and first female masters, which by the way, I am now in the masters category! I cannot believe 40+ is considered masters! I was only a mile behind her, and then the wheels started going in my head ‘if only I had been better about hydration and pacing in the beginning if only’… so now I’m hooked and definitely want to sign up for another to see if I can improve, and also because it was fun, just a different type of fun that I had initially expected. However, the focus is now on IM Chattanooga, so I will have my head down the rest of what is left of the summer training. However I already have some more ultra races I want to do next year 🙂