24 Miles in the Woods

I did another long trail run this week. I wanted to have a stronger run than I did last time, and I wanted to do three loops of the trail I’ll be racing on in a few weeks, just to know that I could. The race is four loops, so three seemed to be a good training peak — the 20-miler, if you will, if this were a marathon.

A fellow trail runner (and ultrarunner) agreed that three loops would be a good confidence booster.

Three loops, by the way, is 24 miles. That’s hard to think about sometimes, these days, so I simply viewed it as three loops.

Thanks to the excellent local trail running community, I found someone to run with on Wednesday. He would join me for two loops, and I’d do the last alone. We had a similar training pace goal of two hours per loop (don’t scoff: with this trail, that is a healthy pace).

There's a lot of this on the trail.

There’s a lot of this on the trail. As in,THIS IS THE ACTUAL TRAIL. See the blaze on the tree up there?

Unlike my two-looper a few weeks ago, I wasn’t sleepy this time. Nor was I craving eggs and toast. I’ve really been packing in the protein, by which I mean eating ridiculously large amounts of red meat. Yes, I do occasionally consider going vegan, but I love beef. Keep your chicken, pork, and fish, but I need cow. I crave it. Maybe it’s an iron thing. Anyway, I’ve been eating a lot of it, and I’ve been feeling really strong.

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Gorgeous, right? I love this trail. It’s so much fun to run, and so beautiful.

The first two loops went great. I stayed at two hours per loop, bidding farewell to my running partner halfway through our second loop (he wanted to slow down a little and take it at his own pace). I made a very quick stop at my car to refill my water bag (the bag itself didn’t leak this time but the mouthpiece did, so I had a wet leg instead of a wet lower back. I’m still not sure what I’ll do on race day — use it, or carry a handheld, which might annoy me).

Oh, also this time I brought new fuel with me (and was in new shoes — apparently my thing this year is to break out brand-new shoes for my prerace long run!) What’s that about nothing new on race day? Right! That’s why I headed out for a 24-mile trail run in fresh-out-of-the-box Cascadias and some Honey Stinger Waffles, which I’ve never tried before (YUM). I also had a peanut butter chocolatey granola bar from Costco. Probably on race day I’ll need a little more fuel but hopefully not much — I don’t want to lose a lot of time in the marvelous aid station.

I was definitely going to keep to a two-hour goal for the third loop. I kept track of my pace this time instead of just meandering along. I mean, I noted how long each mile was taking me. I hit the fire tower (about halfway) a little early, wooo-hoooo! Right after that, I ran into a parent of one of my son’s friends, and he asked how long I was running, and I said I was at mile 19 (!!!) and then had to revise it to say “halfway through my third loop.” I mean, come on, isn’t that so much easier to think about?

On I ran. And ran. I didn’t quite push it, but I wasn’t easing off.

And I finished that third loop in 1:55, five minutes ahead of my goal.

Talk about a confidence booster! I now feel a lot more ready for the race. I know anything can happen on race day — GI issues, ice, blinding sleet, a turned ankle. But I’m excited. I’m a lot more excited than I’ve been about a race in a long time. I’m glad my first ultra will be on my home turf, even though this is one of the tougher trails around.

And now it’s time to eat, run, rest, repeat. And head to Philly to visit and old friend and do the Philadelphia Half Marathon with her. And eat some more. Did I mention my appetite has been insane?

This race is a big head game for me. It feels like the perfect goal for me right now, running-wise. Can’t wait ’til race day!

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