I headed down to Columbia on Friday afternoon, January 3rd. I made my way over to packet pick-up for the Harbison 50k and snagged my race number and t-shirt. Generally, I’m over the whole race shirt thing, but Harbison 50k managed to get Brooks technical shirts…and even had the women’s specific tops! I’m always a huge fan of anything Brooks, so I needed to mention the shirt since I’ll actually use it!
When I told David, the race director, my name, he kind of grinned and said, “You know you have bib number 1, right?” Sadly, I thought this would be the case. Whatever (OBVIOUSLY FAULTY) algorithm UltraSignup- the go to registration site for ultramarathons- uses somehow had me ranked at number one even though I did not have the best predicted time, or anywhere near the credentials to be that close to the top. I didn’t even finish an ultra at all in 2013!
After getting my stuff, I drove over to Palmer’s parents’ house to stay the night. They live right off of Lost Creek which is a pretty significant part of the Harbison course. This means that while I had some knowledge of the trails that awaited me since I run from their house every time we go visit, I also had a reason to be nervous. Remember when I said I hadn’t finished an ultra in 2013 (until I did a 50k at Epic in Dec.)? Well, it was after the first loop of Harbison last year that broke me. I quit. I thought I’d quit ultras for good, even. I know now that I was just undertrained and in a terrible place mentally, but I was going into the 2014 edition with the idea that I could not have a repeat of last year. I was fitter, and despite the number on my bib, I just wanted to finish.
Race morning dawned overcast and COLD.
I was glad I’d opted for tights and remembered to wear my ear warmers. At the start line I chatted with a girl about how expensive running tights can be, but frankly, I’ll pay almost anything to stay warm. Winter weather is not for me. Give me the steaming hot August days any time over freezing temps. Luckily, the race started without much of a wait, so we were all able to get some blood pumping. Unfortunately, not too far into the race, probably almost 20 people or so ended up off the correct trail. I think some folks only went a tiny ways off, while some went wayyyyyy off. I was somewhere in the middle of that. I had gone left for probably about 3-4 minutes, while listening to the mutterings and chatter about the course, before an image of the course map sharpened into focus in my mind. I knew for sure we should be heading towards Lost Creek at the beginning and I knew for sure the way I was running was not towards Lost Creek. I turned around and trekked back up the way I came, reminding myself that I probably shouldn’t just blindly follow the person in front of me at races. Especially trail races.
I don’t know for sure if this situation is what led to my later troubles, but I’d venture to say that the resulting adrenaline rush and several miles of fast running to catch back up to where I was burned a few matches far too soon. Eventually I got through what I felt like was the bulk of the traffic and settled into a decent rhythm. I was behind some guy wearing sandals (my toes were so cold for him) and another guy had fallen in behind me. Soon, I passed by sandal guy and it was just me and the guy behind me. I glanced back, and told him just to let me know when he was ready to pass me, but he seemed content at the pace I was holding. We chatted a bit, as he looked very familiar, and it turns out we’d both been at Epic in December. So, my new trail friend Jonathan and I made our way through the rest of the first loop together. I know I held him up on the downhills, but I was fast enough on the flats/ups that it didn’t seem to bother him. I’m so used to training and running all by myself that it was odd to have a person to talk to. Anyway, I was actually quite pleased to have company at Harbison. Jonathan and I would talk for a couple of minutes then lapse into silence for a few miles. It was just the right amount conversation for someone who is used to being stuck in her own mind for hours on end during training.
After the first loop, we picked up a few more people to add to our group. I was the third place female at this point, and for awhile I was pretty sure I’d be able to hold on to my place. This is about when my earlier adrenaline fueled running came back to haunt me. I started to get aches and pains here and there, and while that’s what I was focused on, in retrospect I realize that I didn’t eat enough to make up for that early fast pace. For the whole race I only had two gels, a few ounces of Coke, and a few swigs of pickle juice. I messed up. Now, I don’t generally take in a ton of food, but that was nowhere near enough for this day. I stopped listening to my what my body needed and I paid for it over the last ~8 miles. I lost a ton of time, and ended up losing several places.
Competitive me is super bummed about dropping down to 7th woman at the finish and running a 5:46 when I know I am capable of so much more. However, I can’t be sad about finishing this ultra. It was a redemptive race for me, a reminder that I do want to be an ultra runner despite my road racer mentality. I remembered that I love running just for running’s sake. I remembered that the ultra community is so nice and supportive. I remembered that I’m not a quitter.
As I crossed the finish line, I was greeted by David, the race director. I later learned that he was there for each and every finisher to give them their medals which I thought was a really nice gesture. I was freezing again as soon as I stopped moving, so I didn’t stick around very long before heading back to Palmer’s folks’ and hopping in a hot shower and eating all the food I could find.
Overall, I am really pleased with how the day turned out. Sure, getting lost sucked, but it wasn’t that bad and I know that I’ll be back at Harbison next year to see what kind of time I can run when I don’t take a wrong turn. The race was well organized, and I must mention how AMAZING the volunteers were. Their enthusiasm and willingness to suffer through that cold morning so a bunch of goofballs could run around in the woods was nothing short of spectacular.
So, that’s my first race report of 2014, and hopefully there are many more to come (I may have gone on a registering spree on UltraSignup and some other road race sites like two days after this race)!