The G.A.C. 6 Hour was a challenge I wasn't entirely prepared for. I sent in the application with a little bit of trepidation, as my last two attempts at running around three to four hours had turned into death marches. Looking at these training runs and talking with trail friends kZ, Trail Pixie, and Breakheart Dan, even before these latest attempts of going long, it was agreed that the long runs and races could be completed with a conservative pace, run-walk strategy, and a will to get to the finish line.
(Heading to the Start)
As we stood in line at the start, Emily and I were surrounded by some familiar faces, Richard Busa among them. To be silly I say, "Hey Busa, you doing Six Hours today?" With that smile, Busa looks me in the eye and says, "That's the idea". I swear, this is the third race in four weeks where I have come to the start to see Busa standing there, and the amazement never wains. Busa is 80 years old, and is more active than most of my 30 year old friends, I can only hope I am half as spry as Busa when I reach my 80's.
Just as Trail Pixie was introducing me to one member of the Lynn Woods Crew, Jay Curry, I looked down at my knee and realized I forgot to put on my IT Band strap, CRAP! I guess I will get a strider or two in before the start!
Once full equipped I made it back to the start and about a minute later Gilly sounds the horn. Off we go!
The race is run over a three mile loop course consisting of single track trail, jeep roads, gravel paths, and a little pavement. The vast majority is over single track though, and runners are treated to different landscapes along the way. It is a really great course because it almost appears to be a figure 8, with a quarter mile section of the course bringing outgoing and incoming runners together, which provides a great opportunity for runners of all speeds and abilities to say hello and cheer out words of encouragement. The course is also sort of cool because there are sections of the trail that seem to have their own personality. There's the aforementioned 'social' stretch, there are a couple sections that run along jeep roads and feature a couple decent climbs and descents, there is a section of single track that is raised up and very narrow with a canal on one side and the Ipswich River on the other, and dark section of woods with a comfy pine needle floor, a short steep climb, and brook just wide enough that it requires a well-timed hop instead of a simple stride or step. The final 200 yards are over pavement, along the parking lot, where spectators made up of family await their runners coming home after a lap. It was great coming out of the woods and hearing my boys scream "Daddy!" It was an especially great lift in the later laps.
The start and finish area had refueling table, adorned with ultra friendly foods. Everything from Cookies and Brownies, to PB&J and Boiled Potatoes with a salt bowl. Beverages of all different flavors were also readily on hand.
As we arrived I made a few small additions to my gear, but didn't need too much at this point. As you can see I had my own pit crew for the day, diligently raiding the cooler for snacks!
Trail Pixie and I arrived back at the transition area with smiles and three miles in the books:
Coming through the transition area we looked at the clock and saw the first lap was about 37 minutes as we journeyed back into the woods for lap 2, or miles 4, 5, and 6. As we negotiated the first section of single track that winds through the woods and up and down a steep hill, we talked about the strategy for the forthcoming laps. We agreed that 37 was a good start. The plan was to try to average 12-13 minute per mile pace for as long as possible, walking the uphills and downhills to preserve the quads for the later rounds. Yes, it seems quite conservative, but I already knew what happens when you over-reach on the pace too early. Yes, I had dreams of marathon or 50k distances in the 6 hours, but I knew I would be more disappointed if I ran 21 miles in 4 hours, only to bonk completely. Most important to me was to be consistently running according to plan in the last hour. Pixie assured me that the Trail Snail approach would work wonders!
During the lap we caught up to one of Emily's friends, Randy, and we chatted and ran together for a while. After about a mile or two, Randy had places to go and people to see (we secretly thought he was sick of our goofiness, and that is why he picked it up). Arriving back at the transition area I grabbed a packet of Succeed and quickly mixed a batch. Grabbed some fig newtons, and headed back out, grabbing a low five on the way out.
We figured the split for our second lap was 39 minutes, which was still within the plan. Good news. As we passed the food table I grabbed a couple pretzels to munch on the run.
The third lap seemed to go along without any real issues. My quads started letting me know they were there and making a little bit of a protest, but nothing too dramatic. I figured this was a good sign, since we were getting close to two hours. I think I have heard a saying that advises to run the first third of an ultra with you legs, the second third with your head, and the final third with your heart.
Originally Emily had mentioned she'd pace me for the first three or four laps, making sure I didn't go out too fast, and then she'd drop. We didn't really talk about her plan while we were out there because we were having too much fun, and I had an inkling that a couple laps would turn into 5 or 6 or 9 for Trail Pixie! That tends to happen with trail runner, we always seem to have a little more left.
We finished the third lap somewhere around 1:55, by this time I was getting ready for my third 20 ounce water bottle of the day. The temperature had climbed and it was really quite dry amid the bright sun and blue sky. I popped and S-Cap at hour two, which turned out to be a great hourly habit. I actually was really impressed at how I felt decent at two hours, then reminded myself it would get harder soon enough! On this lap we were heading across one of the early sections of the loop that goes up and over a rolling hill along an open field and jeep road, and who comes bolting toward us, but none other than USA Track superstar Jen Toomey. I wondered if this is where the hallucinations were actually beginning! The six hour had its fair share of fast people, but it was sort of cool seeing a fast track and road girl rubbing elbows with a bunch or dirt dogs and trail animals. I resisted the temptation to chase and attempt to ask for an autograph... "Ms. Toomey, could you sign my Nathan Handheld???"
As the laps rolled by I made sure I was sticking to my plans - 20 ounces of fluid every hour, and since it was getting warmer I stuck to the Succeed Ultra instead of alternating with the Nuun every other bottle. I was also careful to keep eating intermittently. Making sure to keep enough in my stomach to keep going, but not over doing it. Mostly my food of choice were fig newtons I brought, and the PB&J sandwiches that tasted SO good from the food table.
Lap five was a little bit of a scare for me because I was worried that I was drinking a lot, and though I was sweating, I never really had the urge to pee. Yes, it sounds gross, but I was worried about my hydration, and knew that as long as the cycle of fluid input and output was working, I was fine. I also was slightly concerned because though I hadn't taken as much ibuprofen as I had in training runs, I still took in one prior to the race and one at two hours. Worried, I resisted the temptation to take another 200 mgs of ibuprofen at three hours. Thankfully, and amazingly, as it turned out, I only took in those two ibuprofen, and didn't take any after the two hour mark.
I didn't freak out about the peeing (or lack thereof) problems, and just kept running. The conversation between Pixie and I became more infrequent as we went on to lap six. Our last three laps had been over 39 minutes due to a little more time in transition, but we were still on pace to finish our sixth lap, or 18th mile under 4 hours. At the transition on the sixth lap I wanted to see if I could get the water works flowing and had to wait for the porta-potty. Trail Pixie and I agreed that she would head back out on the course. Essentially we came into the transition area well under 4 hours, but waiting for the bathroom and spending and extra minute or two making sure I wasn't internally bleeding or super, super dehydrated took at least 3 to 5 minutes. Satisfied that I was somewhat okay, I headed out on the course. Looking at the clock I crossed back out on the course in 3:59. I guess this is where the test of the heart starts!
Running solo was tough at first, instead of talking to Emily I was left with my thoughts. I was pleased that I felt like I had been running for 4 hours, but was still able to run without feeling like I couldn't keep up a conservative pace. My lower abs hurt and I wasn't sure if it was because of stomach issues or just the lack of core training and the strain of being upright for so long. I started feeling queasy from the Succeed and sipped it just because it was what I had and knew I couldn't go without fluid. Thankfully my last visit to the food table I found some saltines as well as the boiled potatoes and salt. Having gobbled the potatoes, I stashed some saltines in back pockets of my RaceReady shorts - thank goodness I bought these a couple weeks ago!
Rationalizing with myself, I thought at least this was lap 7 and I was already out on the course. Either way I am finishing a seventh lap and will have 21 miles on the books. I stuck to the conservative pace and plugged along. I saw Randy on the 'social' section and he let me know Emily was only a couple minutes ahead. I wanted to catch up, but the stomach was still in knots. Regardless, I didn't feel like I was done yet and wanted to give an 8th lap a whirl. I felt bad, but not so much that I wanted to quit, perhaps there is a little toughness somewhere inside! I also realized I was only 5 miles away from logging the marathon distance and getting my name on the official finishers list for the 6 hour (all runners who complete 26.2 or more are considered official finishers).
I came to my family pit crew and my kids were getting grouchy... Daddy are you gonna stop now... Ugh, I felt like poo, and was almost ready to do so. Instead I grabbed a couple Newtons and dumped close to half a bottle of Succeed on the ground. I grabbed a Nuun tab tossed it in the bottle and headed for the food table, trying to not think about dropping. I filled the bottle with some ice cold "Agua Erotica" snagged a PB&J quarter-sandwich and a handful of saltines. As I crossed the clock, I saw 4:39. 39 minutes exactly for lap 7 with down time hunting for food and Nuun, excellent! (Secretly at 4 hours I figured if I had the juice I could run an average of 40 minutes a lap and get 27 in 6 hours, but had no idea what the final two hours would bring. Start of Lap 8 and I was up 1 minute!)
I didn't even think about the fact that I have never been on my feet this long during a race or training run, and headed out on the course. Mentally I told myself, "Once you pass the two American flags at the trail head, you finish the lap to which you have committed". This lap I continued to worry about the fluid in, fluid out issues, especially since I made my way through the first half of the fresh bottle of cold Nuun rather quickly. I tried not to think and just to run. The second mile of this lap was quite tough, and I probably walked more than I wanted to, I also tried to find a secluded 'pee' tree, which added a minute or two. I fought through mile 23 and 24 and arrived back at the transition area. I still felt like I had enough to snag that marathon. My wife had the film rolling:
At this point I just didn't think. I grabbed another Nuun tab, and made a B-line for the food table. Grabbed a cracker or two. Filled the water bottle and chatted with a couple volunteers. I knew it was close to 5:15 (allegedly my Garmin said my last lap started at 5:19) when I was near the transition, leaving me 45 minutes or so. One of the volunteers said, "Why don't you just run out to the mile marker and back to get the marathon". I thought, "That's nice, but I think I am just going to try to finish another lap!"
Off I went. I was a little worried because I was still really sore in the lower abs, and the stomach was not back to normal. I also wasn't sure what I was going to get from my legs. I tried to avoid looking at mile splits, but it was too tempting to resist that first mile. As I saw the lap time of 11:59 pop up I knew I was in decent shape. From here on in I resisted looking at the watch and just willed myself forward. Out of the secluded woods of the second mile, I arrived to the social section and saw Trail Pixie heading out to snag an additional mile on top of the 27 she had already logged. I was pumped! We shouted encouraging words to each other and I headed over the last hill to the last section of pavement and trail that would lead to the finish line. I was a little concerned because I knew I was on fumes, but I pushed where I could to make sure I didn't miss the 6 hour deadline.
As I came out of the woods my son Noah was waiting for me. He started running with me, I could taste the finish line! I chucked my handheld water bottle into my duffel bag as I ran by and the left kids in the dust, finding some other gear that can only be explained as adrenaline. I wanted them to finish with me, but I wasn't sure how close I was to 6 hours and I just wanted it to be finished.
I crossed the line, realizing I had run the final lap under 12 minute pace! Stupidly I stopped altogether and started dry heaving. Yuck!
Keeled over I saw I had run 27 miles in 5 hours and 53 minutes. Lifetime bests for distance covered in one run, and time on feet. I have run close to 25 miles once in a road training run last Fall during my marathon training, but my previous long run/time on feet was 4 hours and 10 minutes. Gilly shouted out, "Nice job, Rob!" and I retorted, "Gilly, I have never run that far or long in my entire life!" To which he grabbed the bullhorn and announced my life time best to the others - G.A.C. always has the best events for trail enduro-NUTS. Stone Cat Marathon and 50 miler in November, be there or be square!
After collecting myself, Trail Pixie and Busa hanging close, and we reveled in our day of adventure! Emily snagged 28 miles, and Busa finished with a solid 23 miles. Busa then relayed how his Chiropractor was telling him he is in the final stages of back deterioration and we might find him in a heap on the trail one of these days. Odds are if we do he'll be smiling!
We ambled back to the food table and had some of the sweetest tasting Coca-Cola I have ever had in my entire life! It wasn't quite 'Agua Erotica', but it was darn close!
Eventually I made it over to the car and took off the trail shoes, and to my amazement I took off the Drymax Socks and had NO blisters. Not even a hint of one, it really was amazing, and much like the new pair of RaceReady LD Sixer Shorts, the Drymax Socks were totally a great buy. Come to think of it, the Nuun, Succeed Ultra, and S-Caps were also new pieces of trail running swag I recently bought and had little time to test, but were an obvious benefit in this run. I am not fast enough for endorsement deals, but I'd gladly wear patches for any of the companies because their gear and products clearly kick some butt!
Eventually we packed up and gravitated home, where I prompty took a 15 minute ice bath and totally chilled out!
Sitting here the day after I can't get over the experience. It was just so awesome to go so far over my previous best of moving time and time on feet, as well as running my first marathon and a little beyond. I also am positive I had enough in the tank to get 50k. I also can't get over the fact that my legs are only a little sore -no where near the level I had anticipated I might have to deal with after 6 hours on the feet. I think the ice bath fairly soon after the race was key, and I also think the Succeed worked in mantaining the proper level of vitamins and minerals, sparing any deep muscle damage.
You know, usually I am a fairly calculated person and wanted to follow that formal training plan to a first marathon, yet this was the absolute opposite. I ran two hours at Ward with kZ, Dan, and Emily three months ago, then did 3 hours at the Middlesex Fells with the gang in March. A couple other 1-2 hour winter snow trail runs, not to mention the 4 hour and 3 1/2 hour solo long runs more recently. Other than the weekend long runs, and a few weekend trails races I have been limited to one or two short road runs of 3 or 4 miles a week. The IT just hasn't allowed for much else. Long slow miles on trails are okay, faster stuff and especially road miles are not so good. If I am limited to long and slow on the trails, I am cool with that! :-)
From here I am encouraged about making a run at 50k in the near future, and now I wonder about the prospect of the Stone Cat 50 miler in November. Obviously I have some work to do before the 50 miler, but now I feel like I can honestly have the conversation about doing an Ultra in the near future. I think Sunday I earned a few more trail animal stripes to do so!
More immediately, I am looking at the Eastern New England Trail Series Races, amazingly I already have three under my belt, and have a couple opportunities in the next 6 weeks to race a couple more local ENETRS events. For now, though, I am going to give the legs a well deserved rest and think of the plan for the next grand adventure!
Until then, Happy Trails Everyone!