A few weekends ago I did the Reaper 30K at Salt Lick, KY. The course is part of Daniel Boone National Forrest. I signed up for this race last year not ready to make the leap from 25K to 50K. It was also really cheap. I liked the description of “part road and part trail”. I did all this before I decided to take on a marathon this past spring in hopes that I would have the mental stamina for a 50K. The 30K became part of my training plan for my upcoming 50K.
I decided to stay in Lexington with my sister in law at the last minute. When I went to bed I kept waking up thinking it was time to get up. When I finally fell asleep, my alarm went off. I was tired from getting ready to wake up. I meant to wake at 5am and got up at 5:50. I ate 2 hardboiled eggs and had an espresso. I made it out the. door at 6:30. The GPS said I would make it to the campground at 8:07am. As a runner, I prioritized a bowel movement at home rather than uncomfortable insides for the duration of the race. I had to go through lots of traffic lights downtown Lexington before I got to I-64. I was driving towards a spectacular sunrise. I told myself I would be running soon enough. I focused on the drive as it was part of the race journey.
When I got to the campground the runners were off. I had to stop and wait for them to pass. The last minute change in the emails said it would be a “beach start”. I made a wrong turn following signs for the “beach”. I was glad to see where they started so I could find the starting line. While I waited for them to pass, I shed my fleece and hat, which was one small thing I could do to get ready. I saw my MRTT friends Amy and Tammy run by. I also saw Bob, a friend I made during the Horse Capital marathon, run by, which is always a good sign for me.
It wasn’t a very big race so I found parking easily. I put on my compression socks and shoes. I went with my Brooks Cascadia anticipating climbs similar to the Rough Trail. I strapped on my hydration pack and headed to the start. Since I was late, they didn’t want to give me my bib without first consulting with someone. They gave me my bib and agreed to give me my shirt afterwards. She was kind enough to put my keys in my hydration pack. Her only instruction was that I start through the chute so my time is official, even though it was 12 minutes later than everyone else. Then I was off. I started on the road that I saw all the other runners just a few minutes prior. I stopped on the side of the road to pee. After an hour and a half in the car and that espresso, I couldn’t wait until I got on the trail.
The trailhead was inconspicuous and could be missed had it not been marked with pink flags. On the trail, being late was a distant memory. I was on a mission to catch Tammy and Amy, if that was even possible. The thought of running a 30K without them was lonely. Those first few miles were up a mountain. There were many switch backs on a dirt before I caught up to the sweepers. They asked me if I was the last racer. Then asked me to go ahead of them. I ran a little while longer until I caught a set of walkers who also asked me to go ahead of them. They commented that I was actually breathing hard. I was heartened that I wouldn’t finish last.
There were many downed trees on this trail, I had to go through, over and under a lot of logs. There were signs with the reaper that read “you didn’t think this would be easy did you lol” and it wasn’t. But it was early in the race and I thought, not today man in the mask devoid of color. I pressed on until I came upon a road and found more people walking. At that point I decided since I had trained mostly on road that this road and any flat would be runnable despite my legs being in shock from that ascent/descent. I told myself if I jogged these, I could walk the steeper sections.
The road led to the first aid station. I didn’t stop since I had had a snack earlier on. It led to more trails that went along Cave Run Lake. The view was stunning. After some very intense weeks at work, I was overjoyed to be in the woods. The weather was perfect. At the 5 mile point, I paused to text my husband. He, my son and sister in law were planning to meet me at the finish. I told them I would keep him updated on my progress. It was also at that moment that I read that friends had sent me messages wishing me a good race. I sent emojis back not mentioning my tardiness. I was happy for cell service out there.
As I moved along, I met up with a couple of women that told me they were from Ohio. I told them I started late. They said they wished that were the case for them and said they were slow. I wished them luck and asked if I could pass. They moved aside politely and I pressed on. I told myself these moments in the forest were the “me” time I had been craving with work being manic. This was an active reset and I didn’t want it to end. After some gnarly turns I found my friend Bob. He told me he back tracked seeing signs on the trail that were in the opposite direction. He was afraid we were headed the wrong way given the recent course changes. We headed back until we found the ladies from Ohio. They thought the course was properly marked since they were told by volunteers that the race director was out the day before marking the course. I was not nervous about the race. In my hectic work weeks, I had not reviewed the course. I relied on volunteers, flags and ribbon leading the way. I had no doubts until that point. The three of us followed Bob up a hill and past the backwards slippery rocks sign to the 2nd aid station. I picked up an Oreo and a quarter of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I don’t normally buy Oreos and or would eat a pbj on white but those things were phenomenal. I also refilled my water bottles. I always have one water and one electrolyte beverage. They had sword at this aid station. I passed Bob at this point. I was running high on Oreo cookie. There was a downhill after the aid station and I took advantage of gravity to fly down the hill. At some point I paused to text Angelo I had made it to the 10 mile mark. He wrote back and said it was faster than my first 5 miles. I then told him I was late to the start. This was probably nails to a chalkboard for him since he is always on time. I did not explain the choice between a BM and a late start. Since he is a runner I knew he would understand. So I pressed on. I learned during my long runs that a consistent snacking helped me feel normal during long distances. I had honey stinger chews and a gel in addition to the waffles.
The next aid station was on the top of a mountain. There were women cheering for each runner as they made it to the station. They had potato chips and Halloween candy. I had chips and a Reese’s peanut butter cup. I met Diana, a woman who recognized me as part of MRTT. She ran the Rough Trail last year too. She was having knee pain from an injury. She was hoping for sport tape at this aid station. I ran down not wanting to linger since I was feeling fatigued.
As I ran down the hill, I recalled one of the trail running podcasts that said to change something up if it’s not working. I recalled the person being interviewed saying she ran faster as the change. I did the same hoping my legs would feel less like lead. The increased pace and decreased contact with the ground helped. I was thankful that my friend and coach Jeanette that advised me last winter that I should read race reports and listen to podcasts to build my mental stamina. This was the downfall of my first marathon. Looking back during my 25k last year in these woods, my outlook was very different. At some point I paused to text Angelo I had reached mile 15.
Diana had caught me at this point. We leap frogged on the trail sort of chatting but in our own heads and running our own races. Mile 15 was a relief knowing I was almost done. Even though I had caught up to runners and walkers, I was still in the chase mindset. I heard kids cheering for runners as they reached the aid station. I was overjoyed to find it was Tammy and Amy. Amy was telling the aid station volunteer that she didn’t care what they had that she would try it all. It looked like a pumpkin bread loaf. When she saw me she gave me a bear hug and said she was so happy to see me. She and Tammy were fearful they would not let me race because of my late arrival. Amy said Tammy had been her rock during this race and that it was harder than the trail marathon she had just completed. I told them I thought the Rough Trail was much harder, which may or may not be true. Unlike the Rough Trail, I had not gone into this race sick.
We ran on the road at this point catching each other up on all things race and pre-race. The ladies told me they missed me the night before having shared a roasted chicken for dinner. I had shrimp and grits from the Craft House, which may or may not have been the best pre-race dinner. I would certainly have it again and the BM was worth a late start. I am not sure I said these words. It was the last stretch before that mountain I knew was coming. Amy said the race was the hardest she had ever done. I thought of the signs on this trail with the reaper on it. Ending on the downhill not be easy. At one point I had to get myself over a downed tree. It was huge and I could barely lift my legs to do it. We all laughed at the accidental straddling of the giant log.
At this point Diana had caught us. I told Amy and Tammy she was one of us. They asked her when she had joined the group. At some point we took a picture of ourselves overlooking a cliff. I hadn’t seen it when I started since it was foggy. It was hard to start again after a 10 second break, even though we were headed downhill. Tammy said we were just running down the side of a mountain, which was true. My quads were sore from climbing and my right knee hurt doing downhill. I had a wrap for it in my pack but not enough energy to put it on. The 30K was actually a 33K and we all wanted to be finished.
When we got on the road to the finish, I churned my legs as my friend surged ahead of me. I saw my family waiting for me by a school bus. My friends were ahead of me and told my family I was amazing.
I felt like my quads were a couple of slabs of meat. I will them to keep beating so that I would continue to move forward. The finish was in sight. My MRTT friends waited until I caught up so we could finish together. My son who has escorted me through a marathon and Olympic tri finish, also saw me through All of it felt glorious, beautiful and definitely worth repeating.
Lessons Learned and other Randomness:
- The girls mentioned that for some time, their conversation involved the word “fuck” a lot at the difficulty of the course.
- All we could talk about during the last descent was drinking a cold beer. I uttered the word “fuck” upon seeing the no alcoholic beverages sign on the campground
- Amy told me she was so happy to see me she almost cried.
- Amy and I were singing each other’s names, saying we were both badasses. We did this despite our own discomfort at the vertical climb. I recounted this part of our journey with our mutual friend Marian and said that it was love.
- The drive from Lexington is an hour and a half not an hour.
|Spectacular Sunrise by the Lake that Missed. This is Tammy's picture|