When Dwight and I finally finished our Ironman in October and recovered a bit, we started the “what next” discussion. It didn’t take long to land on The Black Mountain Marathon and the Mount Mitchell Challenge since registration and the lottery signup were announced around then. There was a big part of me that wanted to do the Challenge because it’s pretty epic: The Beast in the East. However, considering my ability to get injured and never having run a marathon and also never having run a trail race….. I decided the marathon it was going to have to be! (smart, right?)
Guess what? I spent the end of December and most of January injured. The first of January had me seriously doubting my ability of doing the race. I wasn’t able to run downhill , which also meant I was able to run uphill because of my SI problem. Considering the race is 3000 feet up and then 3000 feet down, I realized I had more than a little problem because it wasn’t going to matter how much pool running I did or how many hours I spent on the elliptical, I wouldn’t be ready. So when I was able to hobble/jog/run for 20 minutes at the time during middle of January, I started doing incline work on the treadmill mixed in with the elliptical hoping that would help when I could head back out on the trails. By the first of February I was back out on the trails and starting to carefully increase my miles to a whopping 35-40 miles a week. If I really wanted to this race, it was just going to have to be enough. After one solid 20 mile trail run out at Bent 2 weeks before the race, I decided to go ahead and do it.
The Challenge and Marathon have become cult races around here and brings in people from all over the country. The marathon sells out in days and the challenge is so popular that it is a lottery system. Jay Curwen has been putting on the race for almost 2 decades now and does an amazing job as the race director. Everything is top notch from the organization, volunteers, race swag (can we say North Face fleeces), after party, support, etc. You name it, he does it and he does it well. The night before the race is when everyone picks up their numbers and Jay discusses the routes that will be taken. The weather can be difficult and a lot of times in the past, the race has taken the road up to the summit instead of the trails. After 18 years of this epic winter race never having been canceled… This new asshole of a park ranger said that it wasn’t safe and shut down the Challenge this year. It wasn’t, he’s just a prick.
Anyways, once everyone came to terms that there wasn’t going to be an ultra this year, it was all ok and we even voted for keeping it on the same date for the following years.
Race morning was a perfect 30 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. Everyone lined up, Jay made a few announcement like “hey guys, don’t try to go around the park rangers and run to the top” sort of things. Then off everyone went.
My master plan was to sit in diesel mode the entire way up. I kinda new what that speed was (slow) and I wasn’t going to try and go out too fast or let anyone pull me too fast. It’s exactly what I did until mile 5 when I had to go off trail for a few minutes… When I jumped back in I knew that I had lost several minutes but I still just sat at my pace. I did eventually get back up to most of the people I was running with when I had to peel off. However, some of them had started this cycle of running fast and literally get 3 inches in front of me or someone else to only abruptly start walking. Look, I could care less if people walk the whole thing or walk/run the whole thing. The only thing that’s annoying is when people run around you and immediately stop. It’s not a cool move at all. So I was really happy when I eventually got past them. I did have to walk some since a few rock gardens were ice gardens and this Florida girl does not do well on them. However, closer to the top, some of the rock gardens were covered in snow so I was ok with it.
When I did finally get up to the top my lungs were not happy with me. It probably had something to do with the nagging winter cold I’ve had for 3 months. Then on top of that, I hadn’t taken in enough nutrition. So dumb. I had to sit on top for about 10 minutes to stop coughing and take in as much nutrition as I could. I had thought there were going to be gels on course and there wasn’t…. I read it wrong. Totally on me. Definitely cost me at least 15 minutes at aid stations, so lesson learned.
After 10 minutes of watching the people I finally caught and then drop head back down before me, I decided to get my ass in gear and start running down. It actually turned into a race at this point for me because the last thing I wanted were the people who would continuously cut me and other runners off to come in before I did. So, I ran way faster than I thought I could because I suck ass at technical descents. With each carrot I saw in front of me, I ran faster until I picked each and every single one of them off. I win! 🙂
It wasn’t until we got down off the mountain that I picked off the last chick I wanted too. Then something amazing happened for me, I started running a sub 8 minute pace 23 miles into the race and I felt great! Then with maybe 1.5 miles left, I blew up. I went from running an 8 minute pace and feeling fantastic to limping in at a 11:30 and that was asking a lot out of me. In all seriousness, I’ve never felt a blow up like that. Dwight tells me it was a nutrition bonk. I can see that being the case because I really didn’t take in enough. Luckily the other chicks out there didn’t get a second wind and re-pass me.
I came in at 4:48. I’m ok with that time considering how under trained I was and the amount of time I lost at the aide stations. There is also the fact it was my first marathon. I didn’t have a clue what my body was going to be like, if I could do it or was I going to die at the proverbial 20 mile wall people talk about. None of these things happened and I still somehow came in 20th place in one hell of a fast field this year. Let’s say course records were broken kinda race by these two guys:
All in all, it was a great day of racing for me and I’m pretty happy with the outcome. Now onwards to the next one, which I’m still trying to figure out what exactly that will be considering the act of walking is excruciating.