February 13, 2012 Mike Hermanson

For those of you that don't know, this race was a year late for me.  I had a lot of ambition to do this race last year, only to train stupidly for it injure myself with a bad case of Achilles tendonitis that forced me to drop out of the race.  Thankfully, I have fully recovered from it and more importantly learned a lot about myself through that time in life.  Not being able to train gives you a lot time to reflect on things differently!

Obviously, leaving something undone really bothered me.  I had an empty box with the word "Ultra-marathon" next to it on my bucket list.  When I saw my work schedule didn't line up with the ability to do the race, I started asking people to trade days with me.  Finally, 10 days before the race, someone was able to switch work days with me.  I signed up knowing that I wasn't adequately prepared for it.  I knew I had the fitness level to push through the whole thing, but I knew it wouldn't be pretty.  So, instead of my race being stellar, I decided to have a funny outfit to run the entire 33 miles.  Since this race is always the weekend before valentines day and the race is called "loving the hills," the idea of a conversation heart candy came to mind.  I went to meijer, and spent $7 on my supplies and came up with the costume:

I knew I wasn't going to be anywhere near winning the 33 mile race, so I figured I would have fun with it and just enjoy the day.  I didn't taper at all and got very little sleep the week before, did some rock climbing a few days before, and had a 3 hour training day on the day before the race... so I knew it would hurt more than usual.

Race morning came quickly after going to bed at about 1 am, and their was just a light dusting of snow on the ground.  I donned my costume and got my water bottles ready to go.  I left the house in a slight haze from the lack of sleep, but knew it would burn off eventually.  It wasn't until I almost go to the race site when I woke up after hearing my new pump up song on the radio (I'm a little embarrassed to admit that song is "stronger" by Kelly Clarkson).  Ironically, it was last full song that I heard on radio... so I took that as a good omen!

The race started at a balming 27 degrees with some nice breezes at the top of the ridge.  I went through my goals for this race one more time in my head (finishing under 6 hours and/or finish about 45 minutes behind Troy Shellhamer, make it to the finish line to check that empty box on my bucket list, and have fun in my pink outfit), exchanged some handshakes, smiles, and good lucks with friends at the race.  The race started out with the easiest section of the trail, a 6 mile loop on fire roads and portions of the Red trail in the Horine Section.  I found myself mixed in the pack of 15 mile runners with Troy, Eric Grossman, and other experience trail runners behind me.  We exited the 6 mile loop about 2 minutes faster than they did last year and took the connector trail to the Paul Yost section of the forest.  The connector trail is pretty well groomed, which makes road runners like myself much happier and gave me the ability to open up my stride and pick up the pace.  We met Jeremy Brown at an intersection to make sure the runners were going the right way.  It was good to see a familiar face, and get a little laugh from him as he commented on my outfit.

The Paul Yost section of the trail is constantly going up and down ridges, so finding a rhythm is very difficult.  Calculating energy spent here is crucial to the success of your run in the later stages of the race.  I began picking off some 15 mile runners and maintained my lead on the 33-mile pack.  At the end of the Paul Yost Section, was the second aid station.  I filled up my water bottle and grabbed a couple cookies for some calories.  It wasn't until about 2 miles later that I realized I had set down my Garmin Edge 500 at the aid station and left it there.  I was sure that someone would pick it up and bring it back to the finish line for someone to claim.  We came across the part of the trail again where Jeremy was at, and I made the right hand turn towards the Siltstone and Scotts Gap section of the Forest (the hardest part of the trail).  I looked over my shoulder and couldn't even see the chase pack behind me.  At this point, the words of advice that Troy gave me a few days ago rang in my head  "go out slower than you think you need to, because the race doesn't start until about 12 miles left to go in the race."  Those words couldn't have been more true!

I entered the Siltstone portion of the trail still in the lead, but I could now see the chase pack behind me.  Troy and Eric Grossman were leading the pack and reeling me in slowly.  Eric passed me about 1.5 miles into the Siltstone trail.  I started trying to pace off of him and notice that he was picking up his speed.  We blitzed the next 1.5 miles of the siltstone trail faster than I have ever ran on that trail before.  It was exhilarating to burn up the trail and able to run with two phonemonal ultra marathoners.  Troy was keeping pace with us, and passed me to take second place during the race.  It wasn't long after that when Troy and Eric took off again and began attacking the trail even harder... needless to say they left me in the dust.  I had just witnessed what I knew was inevitable.  Troy and Eric are in a league of their own in the ultra scene, leaving me and several others watching from the sidelines.

I entered the Scotts Gap realizing that I now just beat my best one way split time for the Siltstone trail, and also running low on energy.  At this point, I was about 3.5 hours into the run, where I knew I would fall off since that is just slightly longer the longest runs I train for in triathlons.  I had a new strategy that came to me in this section of the trail: take the uphills easy (walk them if needed) and save my running efforts for the flatter and downhill sections.  It was a relief to see the end of Scotts Gap and start the return trip on the Siltstone trail.  I really struggled during the closing 10 miles of the race.

With about 3.5 miles left to go, Jeremy Brown met me on the trail and ran in with me to the finish line.  It was good to talk to someone to pass the agony of the last several minutes of the race.  After exiting the Siltstone, it was nothing but uphill for about 3 miles back to the Horine Section of the forest.  Just before the finish line, Jeremy pulled off and I crossed the line in 5:24, beating my goal of sub 6 hours and came within 45 minutes of Troy (he finished about 39 minutes ahead of me... props to him for a second place and smashing his PR from the previous year on a course that was one mile longer this year!).  Troy's wife, Kara, met me at the finish line with a big hug and congratulations on finishing my first ultra... it was a good thing she was there because I think i would have fallen on the ground flat on my face without someone there to catch me.

I was totally exhausted after the race, but 100% satisfied.  I now have a bucket list that is shorter (at least for now), and gave me confidence for bigger things to come this season in triathlons as I pursue my pro card.  My fitness level has improved dramatically this off season.  As much as I loved the experience of running an ultra, I think i'll stick to what I'm good at, triathlons!

One final shout out to some friends that ran:
Rhonda Curry - 15 miler
Carlos Mendia - 6 miler (first ever trail run/race... and he braved the sub-freezing temps even though he's from Miami, FL)
Daniel Blandford - 6 mile winner (40:33)
Ryan Althaus - 15 mile winner
Kara Shellhamer - 6 mile
Troy Shellhamer - 33 mile runner up
Thanks to Todd and Cynthia Heady for yet another amazing race and delicious homemade food at the finish line... i think I ate my entry fee in food!

Cya at the starting line...
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