OK, I admit it. I got sucked in by the schwag. I mean, really, a nice fleecey vest that represents winter as opposed to the usual race shirt that I normally get at a race any other time of the year. That's how I initially got sucked into The Febapple Frozen Fifty trail race in NJ, put on by NJ Trail Series. I saw a post from them on Facebook, promoting the race and advertising the fleece vest. And that was all it took.
For the last couple of years I have done basically the same winter races and this year I was feeling in a bit of running funk. So when the opportunity to try something new came up, it was exactly what I needed. I have been longing for the trails and the opportunity to get out on them for a 50K was just too tempting. And it was just a few hours drive from home. The race offers four different distances - 10, 20, 30, or 50 miles. Thank goodness the race directors emphasize the cut-off times for the 50 miler, which really kept me from signing up for 50 miles. 50K was just right given the conditions ... some snow, lots of ice, lots of mud, puddles, and a couple of good-sized downed trees to climb over on each 10 mile loop.
I didn't go into this thinking of it as a race, not that I usually have a "race mentality", but I knew that a 30 mile "race" would require something that I don't really have ... speed. So here's how the day panned out ...
Prior to the start of the race it was a constant heavy mist of rain in 40-ish degree temps. I just kept hoping I brought the right clothing. I don't care about getting wet just as long as I stay warm. With a base layer of merino wool shirt, covered by a regular tech shirt and vest, tights on my legs, and gaiters, gloves, and hat, I hoped that I had enough clothing ... and I was absolutely soaked before the end of loop one, but I was warm.
Loop 1 ... went out easy since I didn't know what to expect on the course. Felt surprisingly good on many of the climbs, which made me happy but left me wondering if I should be running them this early on and then have to pay for it later. Oh well, I would find out.
Loop 2 ... stopped to change my wool shirt to a dry one and cover with a different light shirt to keep the wind out. This proved to be time well spent, as I stayed warm and did not have to change my clothes the rest of the run. Started this loop feeling a bit foggy, wasn't really sure what was going on since I felt fuelled and didn't think it was a fuelling issue. So I started taking more Endurolytes and getting more liquids in me, wondering if I might be a bit dehydrated. At about the 14 mile point I had a bit of a headache and since I was passing the car I stopped and grabbed a couple of Bayer Migraine pills and carried on. After a couple of miles the headache started to dissipate and I started feeling my mojo kick in and was able to run. And I felt great. Until Friday night's dinner started to kick in. I had a nice dinner of a veggie pannini, which tasted great, but I knew as soon as I bit into the sandwich that this probably was not a great idea for a pre-race meal. And then there was that artichoke dip. Well ... long story short, the work I had put in to pass some other runners bit me in the ass as I watched them pass me by while I was taking my pitstop(s). Crap. Literally. Oh well ... I wasn't in this to race anyway ... and now that all four distance racers were out on the courese I didn't even really know who was in "my race" either. So I just kept plugging along. Thank goodness the second stop was the last one.
Loop 3 ... Now I really had no clue who was in my race. I started this loop out alone and on the first 4 mile-ish section I saw maybe three other runners. I passed through the start/finish area, grabbed a quick drink and saw Joe briefly. I felt great! I kicked it up a little (as much as I could without falling on the ice or slipping in the mud or slush). Eventually I saw a couple of the runners who had passed me during my "breaks". And I kicked it right by them. I stopped briefly for a drink at the final aid station and was passed by a young girl who decided not to stop. It took a while but I was finally able to catch her and then pass her. And then the fates were on my side. Long downhill section ... my long legs were able to stride it out here and build some distance. She was wearing minimalist shoes and I had my Hokas on, so I was able to bomb down on the rocky sections with no problem. We got to the giant downed tree (top of it was at my waist level and no way could you crawl under it). Once again, being tall was so helpful here ... I was able to quickly get over the tree. I still had no idea who was ahead of me or who was in my race, but eventually I came upon a girl wearing a jacket with "Drexel Squash" written on the back. I hadn't seen her since the start of our race. I just focused on catching her and eventually I did and was able to pass her on an uphill. My sole purpose from this point on was to not get passed again. And I so wanted to be under 7 hours at the finish. And I was afraid to look at my watch. So I just kept running as hard as I could.
THE FINISH ... finally! There it was! I crossed the finish line in 6 hours, 40 minutes! And I had a blast! It rained a heavy mist the entire race, the course got muddier each loop, the ice seemed to get slicker, and it only got funner! And best of all, my little mental push of not wanting to get passed by those that I was finally able to pass and the fact that I just wanted to push for time got me third place female OVERALL! Those two women that I passed in the last couple of miles ... yes, they were in my race and if I hadn't pushed past them I would have ended up fifth. Again, not that I really cared about my placing, I was just so happy with my time (and the fact that I didn't fall once!), but it felt great to feel like I actually "raced" my last loop. I haven't done that in a long time.
So the race distance may have been short a mile of 50K, but who cares? I still had a fun time, I pushed harder than I have in a long time, and I was just so greatful to be out on the trails again! Joe, as always, was a fantastic race volunteer and awesome crewman. This turned out to be a wonderful way to break-up the dreary winter. I plan to put this one on the calendar again for next year and I would highly recommend it. A nice little road trip, awesome volunteers, great running comraderie, and a beautiful course. All in all, a great weekend!