I signed up for the Jay Peak 25K Trail Race on a bit of a whim. My plan had been to run a 5K that weekend, but with less than stellar training during the month of August I thought a trail race might be more fun and a whole lot less pressure to PR. Plus the Jay Peak Trail Festival is held at the Jay Peak Resort, home of The Pump House a fantastic indoor waterpark with which I could
bribe treat my family to a great race weekend.
When it comes to trail running I’m a bit of a newb. Which is fine by me, it is fun to approach a new-to-me aspect of running with fresh eyes and no expectations. I suppose you could count snowshoe running as trail running, and given that I’ve got about three years of trail running experience. But if you don’t count sloshing around in snow as trail running, then the Jay Peak 25K Trail race was really my second “official trail race,” my first one coming just a few months prior.
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On a Whim.
After chatting over the idea with my hubby I signed up for the race and booked a room at the Hotel Jay just two weeks before the race. I was worried the hotel would be booked, but we ended up with a sweet deal that included two nights at the hotel, breakfast, tickets to the waterpark and a free tram ride for the whole family to the top of the Jay Peak. It had all the makings of a fabulous family weekend…except the fact that I had to run 15.5 miles through the woods and up a mountain along a course that is notoriously hard and was recently listed as on of America’s top 15 Most Adventurous Trail Races by the DailyBurn. Suuuuuper relaxing Labor Day weekend with the family.
Training..or lack there of
While getting my bib the night before the race a fellow racer asked me what I’d done to train for the race. “Ummmm,” came my answer. I really hadn’t done much training and hadn’t run longer than 15.5 since the Boston Marathon. I’ve been running 2+ hour long-runs every weekend and had a challenging 13 mile run with 4000+ feet in elevation gain in Colorado. But otherwise, it looked like I hadn’t really prepared for the challenge ahead. There was a little bit of doubt, “Could I really do this?”
Since I felt slightly under-prepared for the race my main goal was to finish and to fuel and hydrate well. In Colorado, I really struggled towards the end of our 13 mile mountain run because I didn’t fuel frequently or bring enough water. Thanks to Ultimate Direction I was able to try out their Jenny Ultra Vest, which arrived just in time for the race. My goal was to stick to a plan of taking a GU or Honey Stinger Waffle every 45minutes and to drink when I felt it was necessarily. While the course was well staffed with aid stations, I didn’t want to be dependent on them and their timing to supply my hydration and nutrition. I wanted to have it when I needed it. There were many runners who did not have hydration vests or packs and honestly at first I wondered if I really needed mine. But by the time I crossed the finish line, I was ready to hug the person at Ultimate Direction who decided to send me that vest because it was a god-send.
I ended up packing 2 peanut butter GU’s, 2 Huma gels and 2 Honey Stinger waffles. I took a GU at 48 minutes, the Huma gel at 1:30ish and a honey waffle at 2:20ish. I had trouble getting the honey waffle down not because of my stomach, but because I was just out of breath and didn’t feel like chewing. I didn’t take any more fuel after that although I probably should have. In my bottles I packed one full of water and one with a 50/50 mix of Gatorade and water. I used up the last of my fluids at around 3:15. I took water on the course at about 3:25ish, just before I finished at 3:33.
While my main focus was on finishing in good condition and not bonking on the course, the competitiveness in me looked up the winners from past years and their times on the road. I wanted to know I might stack up against past participants if they showed up. Based on what I saw I knew I had a chance at possibly placing in the top overall women, if everything went well and I ran strong. I tried to dismiss those expectations though, since sometimes setting the bar too high gets me into trouble.
The night before the race I barely slept. Liam, who has been cropping up molars left and right was up every two hours with tooth pain and with a sniffly congestion that I also was feeling. As far as sleep goes, it was not ideal.
But when my alarm went off at 5:50am I dressed, made my coffee and snuck down to the lobby to meet up with Sandra from Organic Runner Mom, who was running the race too. The morning was perfectly cool and we had just enough time to get ourselves ready for the 7am start and chat about the ridiculousness that lay ahead. Sandra drove up the morning of the race, and it was so great to have someone to run with. Sandra and I ran the Eastern States 20 Miler together back in March and then ran Boston together in April. She is one of the best people to hang out with before a race: all smiles, lots of laughs and no stress. We would later see each other on one of the out and backs and high fived and exchanged some encouraging words.
About 200 people lined up for the start of the race, 150 for the 25K and about 50 for the 50K (which was two loops of the 24K course…God bless the people who went out to do that a second time. I’m not sure I would have had the mental fortitude to do that knowing what lay ahead.)
Sandra and I wished each other luck and with the sound of “Go” all the runners were off and into the woods.
I tried to study the course map prior to the race and my plan had been to go to the course preview meeting the night before, but with kids needing to get to bed I just didn’t make it. I had a general idea that we did several loops down close to the base, then made an ascent up the mountain, ran around the mountain a bit and then made our way down, with one last brutal climb towards the finish.
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Once we got out onto the course, my sense of direction was put to the test. We looped through different sections of the course and though it was well-marked and well staffed I really couldn’t place where we were on the course map. I tried not to put to much energy into it and just enjoyed the scenery.
The course took us along ski slopes and cut into the woods on single track at three separate locations, each time the technical terrain slowed runners to a hike. While there were plenty of runnable sections, the majority of the course involved climbing and hiking and then super steep decent. I wore my Topo Athletic MT-2 trail shoes which were the perfect selection for the race, while I could have worn the Runventure. I really like the feel of the MT-2 better and it performed well on the slippery ski slope grass and the rocky hiking trails.
I realized out on the course that while I can be a strong climber and found a good rhythm on most of the ascents, I’m a cautious down hill runner and many of the people I passed would pass me on the downhill.
Vying for Third
I wore my Timex Ironman watch and took splits at the 10K, 20K and 25K markers. At about the halfway mark I knew I was either the third or fourth woman and as we went back out into the woods for a little out and back section, we ran past the front runners and there I saw the three women who were ahead of me.
It was on the climb back up out of the woods that I wondered if I could finish strong. My big toe had been cramping on the down hill, making my arch and toe feel incredibly uncomfortable. I knew we were past the half-way mark of the race, but I wasn’t sure how much further we had to go. We came out the woods and back onto the ski trails and headed back up the mountain. At this point I was passed by two girls who had gained on me up the climb in the woods. We rounded the 20K marker and started to descend down the mountain. There were brief descents followed by steep uphills. I gained on the two girls who had passed me and the woman who had been in third. And on a downhill decided that if I really wanted to finish in third I had to make a move. I threw my cautious downhill running to the wind, and bombed down the hill passing the two girls in front of me. I just kept pushing, thinking that if I could put a good distance between them and myself and then really push on the runnable section I saw ahead that I could hold on to third place.
I ran as fast as my fried legs would carry me through a relatively level section and then turned up another climb. It was at that point that the two guys who I’d been running with began to question the course. We had followed the arrows, but there were runners not far down the path in the other direction. We started another steep ascent and the doubt swirling in my mind sucked all the energy and fire I’d built up in that downhill push. There was less than a 5K to go, but if we were on the wrong track? How much further would I have to run? I didn’t think I could keep pushing if I didn’t know that the end was close. I slowed and glancing under my arm could see that one of the girls had caught up to me. Well, if we are on the wrong track then we’re ALL on the wrong path, including the people behind me. I pushed a little harder the trail double back through a portion that we had run earlier in them morning. Making me wonder even more if we were on the right track, but then we made a turn down the hill along a portion that we hadn’t run before and at that point I knew the finish was close and we had all made the right choice in following the arrows.
At that point my pace quickened and I gave everything I had. The steep downhill leveled out and we climbed a bit of a rise and my quads cramped. At that point I’d run out of the water and gatorade that I carried in my UD vest. Every bit of me was tired and I still didn’t know how much further there was to go. 3K? 2K? I kept pushing down the trail. And then I heard the announcers voice and cowbells and I knew the finish was close. As I rounded the corner and saw the finish line I realized that I had in fact held on to third place.
There are portions of the race that are seared in my memory, the views were amazing and the day could not have been more perfect. The course was challenging, but I’d do it again in a heart beat. Plus our whole family enjoyed he weekend, at the resort. We will definitely be back!
My quads feel like they went through a meat grinder and I’m having trouble doing stairs this week. I’m approaching recovery like a marathon, since the race took me as long as a marathon (3:33) and I’ll ease back into running later this week, meanwhile I’m walking like my legs are broken.
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Holy wow!!!! I seriously cannot believe your answer to the training question was “ummm” and then you came in third!! That is outstanding! I’m seriously blown away by your awesomeness and I’m sure the lingering snapshots in your head and heart are well worth the whole not being able to walk thing 🙂 Great job my friend. So proud of you!
Cheryl Kjendal says
Wow! Congrats. I have a couple of questions…I am also relatively inexperienced at trail running/races. I run on trails a fair amount. I am also cautious on the downhills. Do you feel like it is something that you will work on? I always wonder if I could gain some “agility” if that would improve.
Have you ever heard of the Trans Rockies Run? When my kids are a bit older, (maybe a couple years) it is on my bucket list…
WOW!!! Congratulations! That is such a huge accomplishment, and so inspiring! Great job 🙂
Sarah Hussey says
Oh wow! Sarah, that is awesome! You are such a talented runner. I love hearing about your trail running! I can’t believe you got 3rd female after questioning your training! You are definitely stronger than you give yourself credit for! Way to go! And, I showed Andrew the picture of the water park, and he wants to go there sometime now 🙂 That place looks fantastic!
It was so fun! And the rates were really reasonable considering it included breakfast both mornings, water park for three days and the tram! Andrew and Jonathan would LOVE it! I know you guys would have a blast!
Sue @ This Mama Runs For Cupcakes says
3rd place and minimal training?! You are a rockstar! Way to go Sarah! Sounds like it was challenging but I’m sure a beautiful course!