I registered for the marathon thinking I would see how I did and how I felt afterward as a sort of test to help me decide if I wanted to register for the Mountain Masochist 5o miler in early November. Brian was tapering for the Yeti 100 two weeks later, so he registered for the half marathon.
There’s a reason we keep coming back to this race. It’s a great course, Ronny the race director is awesome, and it has a low-key, old-school vibe that we love. I was also hoping to get in the lake for a swim this year, now that I (finally) knew where the swimming area was, but the day had other plans for me.
It’s a loop course. The half marathon is one loop. The marathon is two and the 40- miler is three. There is also a 10k that utilizes some of the same trails but doesn’t make the big climb up to Tuscarora overlook.
We checked the forecast and it looked like it would be chilly at the start, but quickly warm up into the seventies. I had meant to grab my coat. But apparently, I didn’t. It was much colder than predicted and I was FREEZING waiting for the race to start. Luckily, I had brought a towel and I wrapped it around myself. I was still shivering though, and Brian said my lips were blue.
There were only 26 of us running the marathon and even fewer than that doing the 40-miler. The majority were running the half marathon and there were only 49 of them. This is a small race and that is one of the reasons I like it so much.
Each 13-mile loop begins with a big climb. I was somewhere near the front of the middle of the pack. I passed a few people, but everyone mostly kept their place in line. I was watching my footing on the rocky trail and listening to the chatter behind me. One lady was saying that she was working on running a marathon in every state. About a half mile later, she passed me.
At the top of the climb, there is a short out-and-back to the aid station. I saw her on her way out as I was going in, so I knew she wasn’t too far ahead of me. I was pretty sure she was the only female ahead of me. Downhill running is my weakness though, so I figured she would increase her lead in the next few miles.
I’ve been working on my confidence on the downhills. It’s never been something I excelled at, but several years back I sprained my ankle on a rocky trail and then sprained it again a couple of months later. That made me even slower and more cautious. I’m still trying to get over that.
I felt pretty good for the first mile or two of the descent, but it was mentally and physically exhausting and I wanted to be done with the downhill long before I was. Eventually, I made it to the next aid station and was surprised that the lady who had passed me on the climb was there. She waved enthusiastically and said something encouraging as she headed out. I poured myself a cup of Heed and scanned the food offerings. I grabbed a couple of cookies and continued on.
The miles to the next aid station are rolling. I was feeling pretty good and only walking the steepest inclines. I was completely by myself and lost sight of the lady in front of me until I popped out of the woods for a short road section before the last aid station. Again, she was leaving the aid station just as I arrived. I ate a couple of boiled potatoes with salt and took a cup of Heed with me, walking for a while as I drank it.
I was surprised to see the lady ahead of me not long after I started running again. I wondered if maybe she was getting tired. She must not have been too tired though because once she saw me behind her she took off. I didn’t see her again until the start/finish and she was already on her way out for her second loop when I arrived.
I needed to grab food and Nuun from my bag and refill my hydration bladder, so I knew she would have a huge headstart up the mountain. I saw Brian’s friend John and he asked how I was feeling. I said good so far, which was true. He told me that he had registered for the marathon, but decided to stop after one loop. Instead of calling it quits though, he was going to do the 6-miler. This is another reason I love this race. Ronnie (the race director) is so flexible about things like that. He lets people who think they’ll need more time start early and he has no problem with people dropping down in distance mid-race. Another friend of mine who had registered for the 40-miler ended up running two 13-mile loops and then the 6-miler instead of her third thirteen-mile loop.
John helped me fill my bladder. Just before I turned into the woods for my second lap, I heard him calling my name. I had left my Nuun bottle sitting on the aid station table. I thanked him but said I would get it later. I didn’t want to go back. I hadn’t meant to bring it with me anyway, but I had meant to put it back in my pack.
I took off up the hill a little too fast. I guess I was trying to make up some of the time I’d lost at the aid station. After stumbling a few times I realized that I probably should slow down a little. Reconciled with the fact that I couldn’t move as quickly as I wanted to, I settled into a sustainable pace up the last big climb. Towards the top, I caught up to a man. We talked for a while before I pulled ahead. Right after I had passed that man, another man came flying past both of us. I commented on his speed this late in the race and he said he was just doing the 6-miler. Uh oh! I was pretty sure he was off course. The 6-miler didn’t include this climb. I hated to tell him, especially considering how fast he was moving. Had he stayed on course he likely could have won the race.
I saw him again on the out-and-back to the aid station. He wasn’t wearing his race bib anymore. Poor guy.
There were three runners at the aid station when I got there. Two were sitting down. I got some water, thanked the volunteer again, admired the view noting that the clouds in the valley had lifted, and headed out.
About a half-mile down the trail I caught up to the 6-miler guy. He was bushwhacking off the side of the trail. At first, I thought he had just stopped for a bathroom break but then I realized he was making his way through the woods parallel to the trail and decided to greet him. That’s when he told me there was a rattlesnake next to the trail. THAT’s what that loud noise was! I had thought it was insects. I couldn’t see the snake but decided I would bushwhack around as well since it was obviously still nearby. It was nerve-wracking being able to hear it but not see it. As I was making my way through the dense foliage worrying about snakes and ticks and poison ivy, another runner (wearing headphones) passed by on the trail below me blissfully unaware that he was in any danger. I was jealous.
Once I made it back to the trail, I eventually passed earphones guy. A little while later, I passed another guy. I started thinking that there really couldn’t be too many people left in front of me.
I was surprised to see the woman who I’d thought I’d never see again at the next aid station. She left before I actually got there, but still! I thought she’d be long gone by now. One of the volunteers asked if I’d seen the rattlesnake. Apparently, the woman had taken a video and had shown it to them. I told him I had heard it but hadn’t seen it.
In the rolling section between the second and third aid stations, I passed one more guy. He was off to the side and looked as though he was either about to or had just thrown up.
I caught up to the woman again at the last aid station. She was dipping gummy bears in salt and chatting with the volunteers. She greeted me enthusiastically. She again told me how awesome I was doing and I reminded her that she was kicking my butt. I grabbed a cup of Heed and walked off drinking it. As she came up behind me I asked her about the rattlesnake and she showed me the video. The rattlesnake was huge. She said it did not want to move off the trail. She then started running as I finished my drink. I caught glimpses of her a few times in those last two miles but didn’t have the energy to try to catch her.
She finished first place female. Only two guys came in before her. So I got second place female and fourth overall. I’ve never finished a race so close to the front. There were only 26 participants, so it’s not as impressive as it sounds, but it still felt really good. I was also pretty spent. Too tired, in fact, to feel like making the trek up to the beach for a swim. I felt like I’d put in a good effort.
I changed clothes after I finished, but I had been wearing the exact same Conquer the Cove shirt as the woman who finished third.
I looked back at the results from the Conquer the Cove marathon and the woman who placed first had come in two minutes before me at that race, snagging the first-place female masters award. Almost the exact same time difference that separated us at this one.
This marathon did not help me in making the decision about running Mountain Masochist or not. In fact, more than a month later with the deadline fast approaching, I am still undecided.