Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Mental Training - TARC 6 Hour Spring Thaw

This past weekend, my 2015 ultra season officially began.  I ran the Trail Animal Running Club (TARC) 6 Hour Spring Thaw.  After a trying winter with many challenging training conditions, I was optimistic that the weather would behave as advertised in the title - with a spring thaw!  Unfortunately, no such Sunday was cold, there was over 2-feet of snow in the woods, and the weather forecast called for a mix of snow, rain and/or sleet to fall during the event.  I took solace in the fact that, no matter what, it would be over in 6 hours...that's the joy of a timed race.

Since misery can love company - I was pleased to see so many friends and familiar faces at the race.  It was fun and surprising to see that the women's field was stacked (with Deb Livingston, Jenny Hoffman, and Lori Wetzel), considering it was a low-key, fat ass style event. It would be fun to share some miles with these ladies and enjoy the day!

(Breaking trail in the early miles)

The race started out with a quick 1/2 mile lap around the parking lot (to spread us out) before we started our first (of many) laps on the trails.  As I turned onto the trails, I immediately post-holed to about mid-shin.  I got out of that hole, and proceeded to post-hole about every 5 steps.  It took about 6 minutes of post-holing (and a few face plants) to see the 1/2 mile marker.  I couldn't believe how slow I was going.  I continued to post hole and face plant till mile 2, wondering how I would deal with 6 hours of this!  Mile 2 to mile 3 on the loop was the worst, as I post-holed every step and was slowed to a walk.  I was frustrated, I wanted to quit, this was miserable!  Luckily, the last 1/2 mile of the loop was the same as the first 1/2 mile, and I was pleasantly surprised that it was fairly packed out from the 100 or so runners behind me.  Alright, I thought, I'll at least do one more lap to see if conditions are any better.  However, it had taken me almost an hour to cover the first 4 miles!

(Enjoying some packed trail in the later miles)
The RD, Emily, was in the lap area and asked me how it was out there.  I told her this is horrible, this is no fun as I grumbled along.  (It took me a mile or two before I was hit with the guilt of being rude to the RD!  I apologized to her after the race!!!) 

(Focusing, thankful that my Inov8 Stormshell kept me dry!)
However, conditions did improve - while it was still slow going, the snow was packed down after the first lap and it was at least runnable-ish.  If you happened to step off defined path or loose you balance at all, you would post hole and fall, but that only happened maybe once every mile or so.  The mile 2 to 3 section never got well packed out and was, at best, 1/2 track - you had to run an extremely narrow gait to stay in the packed sections and there were several spots where you could plunge ankle-deep into an icy stream.  I spent the next lap trying to catch the lead guy.

(Closing in on the lead guy)
Once I caught the lead guy, Greg, it was great to have some company and pass the laps together.  We ran together for several hours and traded stories about running adventures and life.  I likely wouldn't have been able to keep my focus and continue if I hadn't had his company through the middle section. 

After about 4 hours, conditions started to deteriorate again.  It started to rain on us.  One of my microspikes broke (so I had to run with only one on).  The trails were turning to ice covered in slippery slush.  Greg pulled away from me after my microspike broke, so I was on my own. 

(On my own again, practicing mental toughness)
I wanted to stop, but thought of all the races on my calendar and the mental strength that would be needed.  I focused on staying mentally tough and running strong for the full 6 hours.  I started to lap folks, including Jenny and Deb, so it was great to share a few minutes with them before I moved ahead.  I counted the laps left...only three times more past the bonfire, twice more past the snowman. I was passed by the 2nd place guy and let him go - he was moving better than me at that time.  I dropped my waist belt for the last lap, just for something to look forward to.  It has started raining pretty hard in the last hour, and I was ready to shed anything I could.

(Greg and I, as male and female champions)

At the end of the day, I had run 28.5 hard earned miles.  This was essentially a flat course, but the snow conditions had made it such a challenge to get in every one of those miles!  I finished 3rd overall and 1st female.  With 100 runners starting the day, only the top 3 of us managed to get in an ultra distance.  Many folks bailed after the first lap and ran on the local roads instead.  It was certainly a great day to test your mental toughness and continue running!  While I was a bit disappointed in the mileage I accumulated, I was pleased to have run strong the entire 6 hours given the conditions.  It'll be hard to gauge my fitness based on this race, but at least it was another training day in the books.

(RD Emily with top 3 females - Deb, myself, Sonia L-R)
This was my first TARC event, and they do an AMAZING job of putting on a low key and fun event.  Emily, the RD, is enthusiastic and did a wonderful job with some rough conditions.  The volunteers who stood out in the rain just to take care of us were AWESOME!  One of my favorite things that a volunteer did was build a snowman to point out an unmanned turn (see picture above).  Thanks to Emily and her volunteers! 

(Volunteer-built snowman to direct runners!)

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