Sulphur Springs 100 mile trail - 1st woman, 2nd overall, CR by 1h
My second trail race went much better than the first one did! Back then I said I won't ever race on trails again (race report of my first trail ultra) but you know how these things go for us, endurance athletes ...
There were, again, a bunch of different reasons I wanted to do this race, and unlike Ultrabalaton this was approached as a pure training run, not even a day off training that week, just rolling into it from full build for the 6-day race that is coming up in 3 weeks.
The event was local which made logistics very easy and it was not much strain on my family either - I loved this aspect of it. I basically just disappeared that morning (getting up at 1:30am!) and came home that night (at 4-5am or so).
The reasons behind doing this race were: 1. I need 3 x 100 mile races to qualify for Badwater next year, 2. I'm considering getting into 200 mi+ trail races and I thought it might be a good idea not to start with 200 mi but rather do a few 100 milers to see if I like it at all, 3. it seemed like a nice long run opportunity with perfect timing 3 weeks out from my 'A' race.
Having looked at the field in advance, I realized that there was also a very good chance I could win the race. I wasn't sure if I could break the course record which stood at 20:52. A really fast runner, Cynthia Campanaro did that in 2018. I just wasn't sure if her speed would trump over my endurance at this distance and I decided not to worry about it at all until I'm close enough to the finish line to have any kind of idea of what I'm capable of on this course.
I ran on the course a few times before the race, got a bit familiar with what I can expect and I had a rough idea of how to pace myself. The main points were: jog the runnable parts easy, push the non-technical downhills and walk all the steeper or longer uphills. I'm a good downhill runner but not the trail-kind, not the technical hopping over roots and stuff, just the normal road downhills. Luckily this course was not very technical - one of the reasons it appealed to me.
I also wanted to see how my quads react if I really push those downhills for this amount of time. I've never done anything like this and you won't know unless you try. I expected that I would be perfectly fine because I have strong quads from triathlon cycling. And I was right. I had some soreness the day after the race but I could still jog slowly and get through the DOMS pains and the following day I ran for 5h, much less soreness. So this is something that I can comfortably do in the future.
Pushing those downhills. The mask is to help with my asthma.
The course had 8 loops of approximately 20k (12.4 mi) - in reality, it was 19.5k each so it wasn't exactly 100 miles, just a bit shy of it. Elevation was 450 meters per loop (1500 ft), for 3600 meter (12,000 ft) total. So not too bad either.
I went in with a great mindset, not worrying about results, just hoping to enjoy myself and have a good run. It worked for the most part! I managed to stay positive the whole time, I didn't really had any low points mentally and my body held up nicely too! Even the recovery seemed to be going quite well and fast, I finished the race on Sunday at 2am and on Monday I already went for an easy hour run. I'm not saying I could run up and down the stairs just yet, but it was really not that bad.
The race started at 6am. I really wasn't a fan of this because with the 1:15h drive, I planned to leave the house at 3:30 to get there for 5am to set up. That meant a 1:30am alarm. Not ideal for a good pre-race sleep, even for my Ironman races I usually only need to get up at 3:30-4am.
It was happy running for the most part
But it is what it is, I did it, all went as planned, perfect timing, got there, set up, met my crew chief for the first time, John Turner, who was kind to offer to crew me even though we had never met before. I was looking for a crew for my backyard race in July so this was our let's-get-to-know-each-other race so we are a good team by the next one.
The rules allowed for pacers after 8pm or for laps 7 and 8 regardless of time of day. I really had no idea what to expect so I lined up 4 friends who were ready to pace me for a lap each, in case I came through for lap 5 after 8pm. I knew there was only a very slim chance this would happen - something would have to go very wrong in the first 4 laps - but since I needed to finish the race no matter what for the Badwater qualification, I didn't want to be left alone in the dark in that scenario.
So I had David Varty who has run this race several times and even the 200 miler here and knew the course inside out. He was a blessing. Then my friend, Josh Wilson whom I met a while ago at the track where I run, he was the first one to jump on the opportunity when I put the question out there. Ben Puzanov is also a local runner who has been following my page for a while and agreed to be ready to run a lap with me, and Amanda Nelson, a super speedy ultrarunner who broke my That Dam Hill 24h course record in 2021.
David also brought extra crewing help, Mariana, whom I also met for the first time, and I was sure that John can use a little break every now and then so we appreciated the additional crew.
The first lap went relatively quickly, I was happy and it was joyful running. I felt that I was going a tiny bit harder than I should but I always do that and then settle to a sustainable pace so I wasn't too worried. I felt the second lap was a bit more relaxed and I was very surprised to see after the race that my second lap was actually faster than the first, 2:09 vs 2:10 - it didn't feel that way. Once I was on my 3rd lap, I felt that the rhythm I was pushing was very doable for a good while - that was my 2:18 lap and then the 4th was 2:19.
The first 4 laps went very smoothly
Originally I expected that if I can keep the first 4 laps each under 2:30 I would be happy. I way exceeded that expectation coming through at exactly 9 hours after lap 4, so 2:15 average.
I really like loops. It makes it mentally just so easy. The first lap obviously is always easy, but even in the 2nd one we are just getting started. Then in the 3rd loop I'm "almost half way" and when I'm done with the 4th it seems like all went by very quickly.
Lap 5 and I'm already on the other side! Lap 6: I can pick up my pacer in the next lap! Lap 7 and David joins me and makes it faster than lap 6 was! And then lap 8 is the finale, easy peezy.
But really, it was mentally not demanding at all with the loops round and round. I put my cooling shirt, cooling bandana and cooling headband on for the heat of the day (loops 4,5,6), and that's when the 'Trail Angels' appeared as I called them.
You know, in Vol State there are 'Road Angels'? They are people who put stuff out for the runners, a lot of them running unsupported, so even just getting water is a big deal. Here, the nice couple (Tim Nelson and Andrea Lynn Sloan, as I learned after the race, former race directors of this event) had ice and freezer pops! And I called them 'Trail Angels' after the 'Road Angels' . They were absolutely amazing! I promised them to dedicate the course record to them. They surely knew what the runners needed!
Cooling shirt and cooling bandana for the mid-day heat. It wasn't bad at all.
I tried my new trick of just sizing up my shoes, which worked well. I only planned to tape one hot spot on each foot, but the tape came off when I changed my socks before the race - the grass was wet in the morning so they got soaked and I didn't want to start the race in wet socks. Sure enough, I have two nice blisters there where I was going to tape. I will have to try Leukotape next time, that is stronger (it was Second Skin this time which works well on the toes but not so well on the side of the foot). I only had one blister other than those two, it came on in lap 4 and I decided to ignore it. As I said to a group of ladies who asked how I was doing, 'it is short enough' so that I can just try to ignore the blister, run through it and hope it doesn't have enough time to get too bad.
That's exactly what happened, by loop 5 I didn't feel it at all and I could finish the race without worrying too much about it after that. So I think the new plan with the bigger shoes will work great for the 6-day, plus the course will be flat making blisters less likely to form.
I decided to go with road shoes because the course was not too technical and they are much lighter than trail shoes. The forest was a bit wet in the first lap from the overnight and morning rain but it dried out fast so this was a good choice and I wore the same shoes for the whole race. I also settled on my Naked Belt instead of a pack. They can basically hold the same amount and I felt that during the daytime when it is warmer the pack would add to the heat and I didn't like that - I tried it during one of my training runs and as soon as I took the pack off and the breeze could go through my shirt, I felt way better. It also made it easier to put on my cooling shirt to not have to take the pack off, and the refill of the bottles became much faster and more efficient: instead of changing two packs at the end of each loop, I just dropped the two empty bottles and grabbed the two filled ones from John.
Power walking the uphills. I preferred the Naked Belt vs a vest.
Laps 5 and 6 were 2:32 and 2:39, maybe because I realized that I was so much ahead of plan and just relaxed the pace a bit. I also had it in the back of my mind the whole time that I don't really need to 'kill myself' since I have the 6-day coming up in 3 weeks, I just need to run a solid race that will be a great training run.
There weren't really any real low points in the whole race, maybe because of this loop structure and I love counting the loops and can always convince my mind that "this is the last loop that I need to do alone" or that "I'm finishing this loop and then I'm half way through" or whatever. The lowest I got was in loop 6, but again, it really wasn't that bad. I just felt that I needed some pick-me-up and that I had to change things around a little bit to feel better, but I also knew that David is joining me as a pacer in the next lap so I was very much looking forward to it.
The pick-me-up ended up being Coke which was amazing and I also switched from mostly liquid nutrition to a few gels and some water in the mix. It is pretty easy to keep me happy, isn't it?
David was amazing. (If you want to follow him, he is @partywiththevarty1 on Insta, his name is David Varty and I think he was the first ultrarunner I ever met, way before I knew what ultrarunning was and before I had any interest in it at all. We are on the same team at Team Running Free - amazing local running store, if you haven't been!)
David is a much more experienced ultrarunner and especially trail runner than I am. This was my first overnight in a trail race. He has run this race several times over the years. I had specific instructions on how I like to be paced and he followed it to the T. I prefer the pacer in front of me and calling out anything I need to be mindful of and not expecting any answers - I don't generally talk during a race.
He brought me around faster than what I did in loop 6 even though we spent half the loop in the dark (2:36)! That says everything about how excellent he was! I have since asked him to pace me for the last 30 miles of the VT100 in July - which will be 3rd qualification race for Badwater.
The course was not technical
The last loop was a bit of a mess but luckily I seriously didn't need to worry about anything at that point, even the course record was in the bank. Josh was my pacer for that one and the Kogalla waist light that he was wearing died about halfway through the lap. Then my own headlight also died and I can only blame myself for being stupid - but, your brain is just not really functional at that point in the race!
After loop 7, John handed me the other headlamp that was fully charged and identical to the one I was wearing and I refused it for absolutely no reason, thinking mine will last the rest of the race. But there would have been absolutely no harm in taking it even if I think the first one would last for the next loop! And there is just no way to explain why I didn't take it other than that my brain is just not working at that point - that is why you need crew who is thinking for you, which John totally did! And I could still be stupid...
I think being in the dark completely was the main reason the last loop was as slow as it was. Josh tried to give me as much light as he could running next to me with his headlamp but it wasn't a great set up. Anyway, we did it, came around in 3:05 for the last one. When we hit the last 500m (1/3rd of a mile) where the last long uphill was that I always walked, it went all the way to the end of the loop, I saw that I was really close to beating the course record by an hour.
I tried to run the uphill and I did for the beginning of it where it wasn't steep yet but then I just said "forget it", who cares if I break it by 1h or 58 mins? (I do... damn... haha...) But when I made it to the top of the hill from where you only have maybe 50m to run to the finish, I saw that I still had a minute left! So I ran the final few meters and crossed the line exactly 1 hour ahead of the course record in 19:52.
I was very happy with that, especially because I had no idea if the course record was a realistic goal at all. It turns out, it was.
After I crossed the finish line, the race director came over to me and said "Congratulations on your 2nd place!" . I was so confused. I kept thinking to myself "I'm pretty sure I just broke the course record by an hour..." but I didn't say anything, I didn't want to embarrass myself in case I was wrong and I wasn't thinking clearly that's for sure.
I got a nice wooden charcuterie board for my 2nd place finish and I was just sitting there trying to figure out what had just happened. It took me quite a while to realize that I came in 2nd overall including men! So that was the prize I got. Which is nice, but it confused me completely. The guy who won, Ryan Niclasen came in 2.5 hours before me! Mind you, I came in 8.5 hours before the 2nd place woman!
It was a memorable experience, I very much enjoyed it and I have to say that maybe I will keep running trail races after all! For now, just on the side for fun and not as goal races, but who knows where life - and my running takes me in the next few years!