For the past three years, I’ve planned a trip down to the gulf coast of Mississippi to visit family and run the annual Mississippi50 race in Laurel (inland). Training for the 2015 race was going well, lots of hard trail miles on the abnormally warm and dry January Boulder trails mixed with twice a week weight training sessions, focused on strengthening glutes, hips, core and overall balance, had me feeling good about my prospects for a PR and another shot at a win, until…..
A little over a week out from the race I went to the race’s website to check the schedule and directions only to see the date “March 7th” stamped in red lettering at the top. Wait a second, I thought it was on February 28th, because that’s when I’d scheduled my flight and hotel, %$#@^%. I went into a panic, searching the facebook page, my race confirmation email, everything I could find said March 7th. So I immediately started to look into rescheduling my trip, but the flight change on United (they suck) was going to run an additional $500-600, and my sister couldn’t change her vacation around, so I gave in that I was going out the weekend before to see family, and might just have to skip the race, despite all the training. 🙁
I continued to search every nearby city, finally I found a Frontier flight for $300 direct from Denver to New Orleans (2h drive) that would allow me to work a full day Friday, fly out, get a full nights sleep and run the race; now to procure a few rides and this just might happen. With only 10days until the race I found a friend willing to pick me up at the airport and give me a ride to the race, and my sister would pick me up after the race, then drive me back to the New Orleans airport Sunday, it was going to work out! Back to focusing on training, tapering and just enjoying time with the family.
As luck would have it, Boulder got completely snowed under in late February, so my pre-race trip to Mississippi actually allowed me to get in some nice long trail runs on dirt (no snow/ice) the week before the race. I also got to spend lots of time with my sister, brother-in-law and nephew; the most important thing. So on 3/1 I caught a late night flight from Gulfport back to Colorado, finally getting home at 2am after numerous delays and a dead car, ready for a whirlwind week of work before flying back down South only five days later.
On 3/6, less than five days after I’d left the South, I was back on another plane, this time bound for New Orleans. All went smoothly on Friday, and Jerry (my savior in New Orleans) and I were sound asleep by 10pm. The alarm blared at the all too early hour of 4:15am, so I went about with my standard pre-race rituals, ate my two poptarts, then Jerry and I hopped in his car to head for the Desoto NF. Temperatures were a brisk 28F at the start, nothing abnormal for Colorado, but definitely chilly for Mississippi. After quickly catching up with the RDs Dennis and Renee, along with fellow Rocky Mountain Runner Jack and his dad Ed, it was almost go time. I really enjoy these small local races, there’s no big hoopla at the start, just a handful of family, friends and volunteers standing around in the cold morning air. As the ‘gun’ went off, three of us (Jack, Arthur, and myself) took off out front running a very comfortable 8min/mile, allowing our legs to settle in for the long haul. We chatted as we swapped leads, splashing through the many creek crossings, stomping in a few mud puddles, coming through the start/finish in 1:39:46 for the first 12mile lap, a little faster than I was planning, but comfortable none the less.
The three of us continued to leap frog back and forth during lap #2, returning back to the start/finish in 1:42:27, I quickly grabbed a few gels and blasted out of the aid area ahead of the other two. Jack caught me part way into lap #3 and we ran together until around mm32, where he pushed ahead. I was feeling a little off so I let him go, deciding to instead focus on holding steady and preparing for a strong finish through the last 13miles of the race. I came out of the third big loop in 1:48:17, having lost a little time, but still moving alright, now a few minutes behind Jack, but securely in 2nd as we’d lost the rest of the pack after lap #2.
As I started into the first of two short 6.5mi loops, my energy dropped, my pace slipped to 9:30-10ish, and I knew I needed a little pick-me-up at the next aid station. I got in to the aid, slammed half a glass of coke, ate two snickers and chugged off down the trail. The temperature was still quite pleasant (high 50s) and this loop only had a half-dozen or so water crossings, so I continued to push onward. Finally around mm42 the caffeine and sugar kicked in, and my legs suddenly had a good bit of pop, back down to 8:30-9min pace and off I went. I hit the start/finish after a 58:17 loop, not bad considering the low I’d had, but found out I still had some work to do, I needed to run a 52min last loop (for <7hours) and to pick up 3min to catch Jack who was in the lead.
I flew out of start/finish a man on a mission, both for time and place. A mile down the trail another runner told me I was only 30seconds back! Holy hell, I was catching up fast, that really energized me, so I just put my head down and ran. I caught Jack just before the last aid station, he was looking pretty beat. I tried to give him some words of encouragement, but knew that if I wanted to hit 7hours I had to keep pushing. I put my head back down, embraced the pain and just kept moving my legs as fast as they would go. With 2miles left it became apparent that I wasn’t going to make sub-7hours (needed to run two 7min/miles), so I took it down a small notch, all the while glancing over my shoulder waiting for Jack to sneak back up on me. I finally made the last turn down the straight away with 1/4 mile to go, no one in sight, and knew the race was mine and even though I wouldn’t break 7hours, I’d PR by a massive margin.
I crossed the finish line in 7hours03min38sec (26min PR), having run a 54:49 final lap, very happy, very tired, and a little sore. Hugs from my family, who’d come for lap #3, high-fives from my 1yo nephew, and finally I could stop running. Jack came in at 7hours16min, for a very strong 50mile debut and 2nd overall, giving the Rocky Mountain Runners from Boulder a 1-2 sweep on the men’s side. After three years of flat, muddy, wet running in the Mississippi forest, I’d finally had the race I’d hoped for. An even paced run, with a strong finish, where I felt like I gave the course everything I’d had on that day. The sun was shining and it was in the 60s, so I was happy to hang out with family and a few friends, enjoying the laid back atmosphere and the Southern hospitality. I’ve always been a big proponent of the homegrown low key races, put on by people who give so much of their time and energy simply because they love the sport and all the people in it. While I definitely pushed myself and competed on this day, Jack and I spent most of the miles in friendly conversation, and not until the last 15miles did we actually start racing and challenging one another. Ultrarunning is about pushing your physical and mental boundaries, but doing so in an environment where ALL runners support one another, regardless of pace, experience, or age, this is what makes it a truly special sport.
Last year I feel as though I had logged more fast hard training miles, but this year I trained smarter. Mixing in hard slow mountain miles with some faster paced tempo runs and my twice a week weight training sessions. As with many runners I suffer from Noassatall, it’s a terrible disease where you butt doesn’t do any work, letting your quads and hamstrings overwork, not a very efficient way to run. So a smart race plan, listening to my body during the race and a little weight lifting in training are what I felt made the difference for me this year compared to the last two years. So whatever your goal, train smarter, not just harder. Special thanks to Vfuel for supporting my craziness and powering my race (9 Vfuel and half a dozen snickers were all I ate). Run fast, run healthy, but mostly run happy.