I kicked around ideas for this run during the week. Eventually (the night before) I settled on running five laps of the Pate Hollow trail, a six-mile loop. This would, in a way, simulate the Jackson race (it's five laps of a ten-mile loop). It would get boring, but I figured the mental training would be invaluable. I also wanted to get an extremely early start because we had a mid-afternoon errand to run, so I needed to be home by about 2:00 p.m. I gave myself seven hours to complete the run, and building in cushion time, it meant starting out at 6:00 a.m. I embraced this as a chance to practice a little bit of night running and promised Mark updates via text for every loop. As an added bonus, it was also opening day of firearm deer season.
Within 15 minutes, I could already discern that the horizon was beginning to lighten. My reward for hauling my ass out there on that absurdly frigid morning was a clear sky with the moon and stars gradually giving way to the sun. It was a wonderful experience.
I picked my way along, stopping occasionally to get a picture. I discovered early on that my hydration pack tube was freezing up, but I had prepared for that possibility. After each drink of water/Tailwind, I blew the fluid back into the bladder and stashed the bite valve down the collar of my top layer, a 3/4 zip pullover. This worked perfectly and I had no further trouble with hydration.
Finally the idea waddled through my frosty synapses that it was just too cold for the electronics to be working. I had already seen that my phone's flash wasn't working because it was too cold (it actually pointed this out whenever I took a picture). I rearranged my rig and stashed the charger down my shirt, gave it a couple of minutes, and tried turning it on again. Bingo! Phone powered back up, I turned my Strava app back on and major bonus, it resumed recording from where I left off!
When I got back to the car again, I spent some time trying to make my stupid fingers work well enough to unclip my hydration pack so I could top it off. The rest of me was feeling marginally better, so I trusted to the fact that now it was after 9:00 a.m. and with the sun out, it HAD to warm up a little bit. Within a few minutes, I did in fact begin to warm up, and finally, around the overall midway point in the run, I actually felt more or less comfortable. I picked up the pace and actually enjoyed myself again for the first time since the first half of the first loop.
Loops 3 and 4 were pretty uneventful. I saw some other runners and hikers, more hunters, two dead deer, and a lot of blood trails which I fervently hoped belonged to deer. My legs had been feeling good so far, but there was definitely fatigue making itself known and they were gradually getting heavier. All the leaves on the trail contributed to a feeling that I was just shuffling along, barely lifting my feet. I put on my music, something I VERY rarely do, and that was a welcome boost.
At the end of the fourth loop, I didn't really need a stop at the car, but I stood for a moment and just caught my breath. Okay, I told myself, just one more. The eternal end-of-run litany of runners everywhere--just one more mile, lap, straightaway, interval, repeat. Strangely, the fact that my "one more" meant another six miles and another hour and a quarter was not too intimidating. I felt a mixture of calm readiness and resignation. This would be my longest run ever at Pate Hollow. I once did four laps there and felt like I had conquered the world. Now I was going to increase that by one. Eeeep!
I had been walking the big climbs since the beginning, but this time I felt like I was going especially slow on them, and my legs felt so heavy. The flats and descents, though, still felt pretty good. I could tell I was having to concentrate harder in order to focus on my footing. I remembered that I was only a week out from doing a freaking 50K, and marveled anew at what a human body can do. I was hurting some, but it was all low level. The largest part of the mental battle was starting to run again after a walk break. It was so tempting just to keep walking. A few times I shuffle-ran up a smaller hill at an achingly slow pace rather than walk, just so I wouldn't have to walk and then start running again. When I did stop to walk the climbs, though, once I got my legs moving again, I found that I was able to keep my pace even with what I'd been doing so far, just working a little harder to do so.
In time, I found myself on the final climb and headed back out to the car. The feeling of accomplishment was almost as good as the previous weekend's 50K. It was 30 miles instead of 31, but I recorded slightly more elevation gain, and doing it solo and unsupported was tough too. I'm really, really glad I got that run in. I learned a lot from it and feel about as ready as I think I will be able to feel to run 50 miles.
The ten-miler the following day also went well. No significant soreness, just fatigue. Forty-mile weekend is done, hay's in the barn, and it's taper time!
- I can survive a really long run in the bitter cold. Just don't stand around too long fiddling with gear. Numb fingers suck at doing things, so do as much prep as possible beforehand--cut up UGo bars into bite-size pieces, premix PLENTY of Tailwind, etc.
- Sometimes electronic devices don't want to work when it's really cold. Keep an eye on this and be prepared to stash somewhere around my person.
- Hydration pack freezing is real. Keeping fluid out of the exposed tube and stashing the bite valve under at least one layer works...at least down to 15 degrees.
- My legs really do continue to work past 26 miles, even without race day magic.
- When everything seems like it's going wrong, take a breath and stay calm. It's probably not as bad as you think. Enjoy it when things go well.
- Moving time: 6:03:01 (moving time for the loops was roughly 1:20, 1:11, 1:10, 1:11, 1:10, and I alternated counterclockwise and clockwise, so three CCW and two CW)
- Elapsed time: about 6:50 and the loops were something like 1:30, 1:30, 1:20, 1:15, 1:15
- About 4,500 feet of elevation gain for the day
- I drank about 2.5 liters of water with Tailwind, working out to an average of just under 150 calories and 12 oz of water per hour of elapsed time.