Let’s start with the punchline first…
And now tell the funny story…
I was initially planning to do a half marathon two weeks ago as a fitness test but ended up tweaking my hamstring and getting the Resident Plague and spending that Sunday in a feverish ball asleep for 36 hours. Because I live firmly in the Bible Belt, finding a Sunday race is tough and I work on Saturdays so finding a replacement race was difficult. Thankfully, I am now on a rotation with the world’s most understanding Attendings who are generally entertained by my running escapades and they were okay with me missing last Saturday so I registered for the Swamp Rabbit 25K. When I discussed this with Dave, we were both psyched for the distance because it provided an opportunity to really assess my current marathon fitness. Of note, I MAY have mislead Dave into believing this was a road race because I believed it was. See, the Swamp Rabbit is the 30+ mile greenway in Greenville so I assumed this race used the greenway. I was wrong.
I woke up bright and early on race morning and headed to Greenville. As has been our lot lately, the weather was a bit on the miserable side. Summer has come back with a vengeance and the humidity is oppressive. It was about 70 when I got to the race course with an equal dew point, leading to almost 100% humidity. Thankfully, it was overcast with occasional rain sprinkles. The course was a 10K out and back but the 25K started at the halfway point and since we had to be bussed out there, I didn’t bother warming up until we got out there. I did a short run (on the paved trail) and some drills and we were off at 9 am.
I immediately ended up at the front and although another woman went with me for about a half mile, I spent the remainder of the race alone except for passing 50K runners or seeing other 25K runners on the out and back. The first mile was on pavement and I just tried to settle into a relaxed pace that approximated marathon effort. I came through in 6:58 and thought “perfect!.” And then we took a sharp right turn onto a goat path. Turns out that although the course was BASED on the Swamp Rabbit Trail, it actually included many segments on single track, boardwalks and sand. Whooops. As I sputtered internally, I focused on staying efficient and keeping my effort up while I explored the first 5K back to the Finish Area. We climbed a big grass hill with multiple switch backs, then barreled down the back side on a root filled descent. The remainder of the “back” contained boardwalks, trail, stairs and some pavement and a final grass hill up to the Finish/turnaround. I rolled through and headed onto the “out” section.
The first part of the out actually stays on the Swamp Rabbit Trail, so I tried to use this time to pick up my leg speed and bring my pace down again. We then climbed a long hill followed by a long descent and turned onto the same switchback that we had careened down on the way back. That climb was TOUGH. Roots and switchbacks made keeping momentum tough and although the first time over it wasn’t too bad, the second time was misery. Then it was down the grass hill and back on the Swamp Rabbit to the 10K/where we started.
I took my first gel at the 10K and this was where I realized how hot I was. Since my goals of using this a marathon simulation were a bit shot and I was comfortably in first, I actually stopped and took my gel rather than choking on it. Then I set off again for the return trip. On the pavement, I was happy to see my pace right around 6:50. On the trails, all bets were off. I will admit that as I wound my way through the last trail before the Finish Area, I was internally whining about having to do ANOTHER 10K on the trails. I came through the Finish/15K and stopped again for a sip of water and THE BEST SIP OF COCA COLA EVER. I see why real ultra runners swear by it…By now, I had soaked through my singlet and shorts and was just in survival mode.
The last 10K included a few moments of happiness but mostly a slog where I bribed myself multiple times with the idea of a) laying down and b) finishing the Coke I’d left at the finish. During this last 10K, the sun came out and the conditions went from overcast and humid to just plain brutal. Crossing one of the swamps on a boardwalk, I am pretty sure turtles were moving faster than me. Somehow I persevered and the next thing I knew, I was crossing the last bridge and running up the grass slope to the finish. I crossed in 1:57 and happily found my Coke. I didn’t lay down because I was SO soaked that I never would have gotten the grass off of me.
All in all, I’m very happy with this race even if it wasn’t quite the simulation run that I’d hoped for. My pace averaged out to 7:30 pace on super challenging terrain which makes me feel more confident about what I can do on the road in a month. I’m also happy with my mental game. I could have completely shut down upon finding out the course was a trail race but instead, I worked hard on the paved sections as I could and tried to be efficient on the trail sections without injuring myself or letting my heart rate drop too far. I also had a great time getting to know more of the local Ultra community. Maybe it’s the South but the two ultra “crowd” experiences I’ve had since moving here have been just overwhelmingly welcoming and positive.
Splits below, although not that useful as my Garmin is atrocious on trails/under tree cover. I saw everything from 5:50 to 12:00 minute pace during the race and although I believe the latter, I’m skeptical about the former…