The last time I won a race would have been on family vacation, at a rest area where my father would pit my brother and me against each other to burn off energy on an otherwise sedentary day of travel. Dad would give a handicap to Joey for his (then) smaller size, but as Joey's genetic make-up was similar to my own, I still won a few times. I have run hundreds of races since then, never better than second place.
I did not enter the Hocking Hills Indian Run 60k with thoughts of racing. It was intended as my last long run before tapering for the Grindstone 100, 20 days away. I did a regular week of training leading up to it and estimated it would take me 7.5-8 hours to complete the 60K course. A quick glance at last year’s results told me that this would make me dead last. Hmm, must be a quick course.
The course made the event as much a road race as a trail race. It was a 20k loop run 3 times and made up of about 4-5 miles of pavement, 2-3 miles of single track (unfortunately awkward rather than fun), and the rest dirt/grass road or wide trail. There were some good hills, including 3 climbs that I walked every lap.
The starting line was typical of a low-key ultra run: I got in the middle of the 30ish runners waiting for the start and everyone in front of me shifted behind me. Oh well, I guess I’ll start out in front. A pack of men quickly separated from the rest of us. Then after a mile, my friend David and several others pulled ahead of me. I found myself mentally counting the women. One, two, three, okay I’m fourth. Wait, what am I doing? This is a training run!
I spent the majority of the first lap waiting for the real trail, but unfortunately there weren’t any sections I really enjoyed running. We were joined by runners doing shorter races on the singletrack section so it was tough to move quickly through the crowd. I did end up running a little bit with two young boys I assume were brothers who were doing the 5K together. They asked me how far I was going, and I said “60k.” “Nnniiice,” they chorused. I saw them a couple more times and they yelled out encouragement. Someone is raising them right.
Fairly early on in the second lap my legs started to get tired. I began bargaining with myself about how far I would go before I started to take walking breaks. I had been running everything except those 3 hills. I knew that if I could keep running consistently for the remaining 20 miles despite tired legs, it would be a huge mental boost to look back on at Grindstone. My legs started feeling better during the singletrack section; it was a relief to use different muscles. I passed a woman at the end of the lap, and reminded myself not to race.
I changed out of my more minimalist trail shoes into my Kinvaras because the pounding on the roads was making my feet miserable, and I felt much better starting the third lap. I kept extending the distance I had to travel before I would start to walk. Every once in a while I saw flashes of neon indicating the woman ahead of me, but I had my own goal: finishing in under 7 hours, which would require fairly even splits. Just over halfway into the lap, I started catching up with her as she would walk short spells. As soon as I got within 10 feet of her, she would take off, running fast. Okay then, if she’s going to be competitive, I will be too! (I actually am quite indebted to her for keeping me moving).
She encouraged me to go ahead as we approached the singletrack and I didn’t see her again until she finished. I kept up my same plodding running pace without walking outside of my 3 hills. I caught David at mile 35 and he said he had been struggling, but he finished just a few minutes behind me. I finished in 6:56:51, with legs encouragingly feeling like they had during the second loop.
I called Nathan on the way home and he said he wasn’t surprised I broke 7 hours; he had been tracking my splits online. He pulled them up while we chatted and told me that I was fifth overall and, hang on, first female! It seems I finally found a race small enough to win.
While the 60k was small, the other races (5K, 10K, 20K, and 40K) had many participants. Even so, the aid stations stayed manned into the afternoon with friendly volunteers. I was so grateful to them for sticking around while we slowpoke ultrarunners finished up, especially as the temperature got warmer.
$25 is definitely worth it to run a new course and to take the mental difficulty out of a solo long run. Now I get to taper and work out last minute details for Grindstone!