7 Sisters Trail Race
This race is amazing. It packs the vertical relief of Mount Washington into 11 miles or so, with nearly every step requiring finesse and agility. The uphills are steep enough that you have to hike, often using your hands to pull yourself up rock faces, and the downhills are best described as a barely-contained tumble. As far as I'm concerned, this is about as good as it gets!
I actually targeted this race, focusing on the uphills and the downhills with the only easily-accessible vertical on my commute - Harvard Stadium. I was starting to feel pretty good about my fitness, and then I actually rested properly leading up to the race. Morning of the race, I felt good, and knew that despite the wet weather, this could be a very good day. My plan for the race was to start conservatively, let the speedsters take off, and run my own race. It's a long enough race that I wanted to save something for the return trip, and after getting completely depleted last time I ran this (protip: don't throw your food to the side of the trail because you think your water bottle belt is too bouncy), I had a feeding strategy and planned to stick with it.
Part of my tapering plan was to get a massage, which was dearly needed. Sam Peck is a master. But thanks to my crazy schedule, the only time I could get in was on Thursday, and that was a little too close to the race. I decided to go with it anyway, but that was a mistake - I could feel the sore bits as the race went on, and really just needed one more day in there. Argh, I hate preventable mistakes!
The second preventable mistake I made was to swap my shoes at the last minute. I had been planning to go with the X-Talon225s, an awesome racing shoe that I use for pretty much everything. They're hands-down my favorite Inov-8 shoe. But, I made the mistake of also bringing the TrailTalon250s to the race, and suddenly I had given myself choices. And we all know that before a race, if you have choices to make, you will agonize over those choices, and then you will probably pick the wrong thing. In this case, it wasn't wrong per se, because the TrailTalons had phenomenal grip and I have been doing a lot of my long runs in them. But, because they have a little more room in the toe box, I wanted to make sure that my feet wouldn't slide around at all, so I cinched down the laces way too tight. Like waaay too tight.
I've done this before. It's a bad idea. You'd think I'd have learned my lesson.
We took off and as predicted, Kehr and Kelsey were off the front and a couple others followed them. I found myself in 6th place, with a couple other girls getting pushy, but they didn't seem very confident on the rocks, so I knew they wouldn't last. I felt pretty good and light up that hill, but cresting the top I discovered that my shoes were too tight, and that was making my calves cramp worse than usual. A smart person would have stopped and loosened her shoes. Did I do that? Noooo.
We started to catch the end of the elite men's wave on that first climb. and it was nice to be passing people. I wanted to throttle back the effort a bit, but was struggling to do so. When I finally passed Ed, who had hiked out to the low point to cheer, I was settling into more of a rhythm. Hike the uphills, generally with hands on knees (gotta put that extra skier weight to use somehow), tumble down the hills. I was going back and forth with a couple guys at this point, who were generally better on the ups and I was better on the downs. This is how it goes for me.
At the Summit House road, I was 2 minutes behind my 2014 split. I was more depressed by this than I'd anticipated. Even with the tight calves and muddy trail, I'd felt like my training was more than good enough to make up for that. How had I gotten so slow? I couldn't speed up much more without paying the consequences later, so maybe my training hadn't been as good as I thought. Maybe age is starting to catch up. Maybe I could have been actually pushing a little harder. But then I lifted my gaze as I climbed up to the Summit House and saw a female figure disappearing over the crest - that's 4th place up there! Maybe I can catch her on the downhill.
I actually did feel really good climbing back to the Summit House. I was keeping pace with a guy in a red shirt, and only two guys from Wave 1 passed me, so that was good news. My calves were still tight, but not exploding anymore, but I was starting to notice my heels - almost like they were falling asleep, but not really, more like they were just starting to ache really badly on the bottoms. Again, a smarter person would have stopped to loosen her shoes. At this point I certainly had the leeway.
Upon actually taking off my shoes, I found I couldn't stand. Ed carried me back to the car, and over the course of the next hour or two I tried to relearn how to stand, walk, and move around. I've never been so hobbled after a race. It was terrible, and it was entirely my own fault. This doesn't take away from the awesomeness that is Sisters, it just ensures that I'll be back, to try for that elusive 2:20 again.
Post-race leg-soak in Puffers Pond was heavenly. And frigid.
Overnight brought no relief. I didn't really sleep at all, the pain in my feet keeping me tossing and turning as though maybe if I lie on this side my feet will hurt less. Come morning I still couldn't stand. Last night I'd sort of been able to tiptoe around, this morning my arch muscles were in as much pain as my heels, so tiptoeing brought no relief. 400mg of ibuprofen with breakfast got me to the point where I could lurch to the car, and I decided that this wasn't the sort of pain that was likely to cripple me long term, so I'd better just take some more ibuprofen and do the race. I really badly wanted to win the ugly billygoat doorstopper back. And you can't win a race if you don't even start it.
Another 800mg and I got through a short warmup test jog. The pain was now at a level where it just felt like a dull ache, no more stabbing. Let's do this thing! We started off, and I immediately felt the effects of doing neither a cooldown yesterday nor a warmup today. Those legs were STIFF. Everybody was running off, and I was left in what felt like the dust. But I focused on being efficient, and despite climbing up that first hill at snail pace, I found myself a loose group of Jeff, Andis, and Keegan for the first controls. This was a good group!
I then decided to abandon my reliable group and strike out on my own to 5, going left on a trail, that gave me bonus climbing, bonus mountain-laurel-bashing, and bonus cliff-scaling. That cost me about 4 minutes, and now I was alone and depressed. My everything still hurt, and I knew Izzy had a big lead, and I kind of just wanted to sit on a rock and listen to the birds. When I saw a pheasant flapping away from me I knew nobody had passed through in a while, and got even more glum. Figured it was about time Izzy won one of these things, anyway. Too much hubris to think I could do both a tough trail race and a tough orienteering race in one weekend. I'm getting old, need my recovery, don't have the snap that I used to.
About three controls of wallowing later, I finally started to pick up some runners. That lifted my spirits enough to pick up the pace a little, and I managed to get back into the game. As I headed to #9 I saw Izzy leaving it, and from the direction she was going, I figure she was skipping #10. In this race, you're allowed to skip a single control, which adds a different element of strategy to it. Seeing Izzy skip 10 firmed my decision to skip 14, which looked about equal in its skippability. Gotta try something different, see if it'll lead to an advantage. Like that, the competitive embers stirred, and the flames began to grow. This race isn't over yet.
I started to run a little more aggressively and moved up through the pack. The thing I love about the Billygoat is that I pretty much know everybody who is racing it. Definitely one of my favorite communities, that I wouldn't trade for anything. By the time I finally got to #13 and headed off towards #15, confident in my skip choice, I was feeling a lot better about my placement. I'd been steadily moving up, and had a long trail run ahead of me. My body was cooperating, the sun was shining, life was great.
At 15, I ran into both Izzy and Kseniya. Yay! Contact made! I relaxed a little, to try and recover, knowing that at some point, somebody would attack, and I wanted to make sure I could match it. We were together, with a few men in our pack, until about control 21. We had a long trail run then, and I decided to stretch the rubberband a bit and see what happened. It wasn't quite enough, but I could see that my trail running was a little stronger. We converged on 23 again, and then Kseniya got a bit of a gap coming down a steep rocky slope in the woods. She hit the trail by the river and accelerated, and I knew that this could be decisive if I didn't cover it. Definitely burned a match to close down the gap, but that had been a bluff - I could see her fatigue as we hit 24. Her attack had dropped Izzy, and I knew that with a mostly-uphill finish on trails and fields, things were in my favor. I took the uphill side of the wall leaving 24, which was more packed-down than Kseniya's side, and this gave me a few seconds. We hit the trail, up a hill, and I gave it some oomph, determined to not look back. I couldn't tell if the footsteps behind me were the West Point cadet or Kseniya, so I kept driving. One final uphill through the field, and as I turned 90 degrees to head to the finish I risked a look, and saw a comfortable gap. Phew!
I was very proud of the end of that run. It had been a mental game from the beginning, and came down to determination and motivation. I was very pleased to have been able to summon the oomph that I needed near the end. And, I hit all my goals of the race:
1. Finish, in under 3.5 hours
2. Beat Ed
3. Win the women's race
So I collected the ugly doorstopper for another year, as well as a delicious victory pie. A great end to a tough weekend.