The Pineland Farms Trail Challenge 50 mile was my first ultra race alone. I had wanted to go for a couple of years but it’s on the same day as the VT City Marathon. I haven’t run VT City in a couple of years opting for the Nipmuck Trail marathon instead which is usually the weekend after. However this year, it falls two weeks after and on the same day as the Girls on the Run 5K for which I coach the Charlotte section. My friend, Aliza, ran Pineland Farms last year and was planning on going back suggested I go with her. My first thought was to do the 50K but Aliza said the course was easy that I should do the 50M.
I ramped up my training to get at least one 30m run in by doing laps around the Hinesburg Town Forest. A couple weeks before the race, I found out Aliza was sick and wouldn’t be going. Since I had already registered, I was committed.
I made a reservation at the Super 8 motel in Freeport which was supposed to be only 10 minutes away from the race. It was the most reasonably priced place I could find that would allow a one night stay since it was a holiday weekend. The front desk person recommended a local Italian place that was conveniently 5 minutes down the road from the hotel.
After dinner I went back to the motel to get ready for the race. I know a race is not the time to experiment but my plan was to use my hydration pack and to refill it which was the experiment part. Usually, I would start with my pack and switch to my fuel belt and keep swapping bottles. However, I’ve found it easier to drink from my pack and still be able to run compared to my fuel belt where I end up walking and fumbling with bottles. I did get my fuel belt ready to go just in case I changed my mind during the race.
I packed a small cooler with my fuel belt, four extra bottles, GUs, Clif Shot Blox, a 32oz bottle of Amino Vital Endurance formula and a small bottle of Coke. I don’t normally change my socks or shoes for a 50m so I didn’t bother with any type of drop bag. I wore a pair of Brooks PR shorts (which was a first as well) with a Brooks short sleeved shirt. The morning was a little chilly so I had a long sleeved shirt on too figuring it would be fine if it started to rain.
It didn’t take long to make a new friend- a runner named Jamie-who showed me a good spot to put my cooler. It was along the course on a section that I would go by twice each lap. Of course I came across not so new friends that were fun to catch up with.
After a short pre-race meeting, we started. The 50m course is a 3.5m loop done first and then three laps of 25k. I started with Nate Sanel, a friend from NH who Jack is coaching, but it didn’t take long and he was ahead of me. I was chatting a little bit with whoever was around and listening to the other runners talking. The first 3.5m went by fine and gave me a feel for the course. It was a wide sometimes grass, sometimes gravel and sometimes a mowed path through a cow field over rolling hills.
I didn’t think to click the lap button on my watch after the 3.5m loop and was getting warm on the first 25k lap. I took my long sleeved shirt off and felt better but still wasn’t in a racing mindset. I tried to convince myself to use it as a training run and stay up with my nutrition better than I usually do. I finally made it back to the start/finish area and was a little disoriented as to where my cooler was but kept going and found it.
I probably wasted the most time at this stop. I refilled my hydration pack but didn’t recluse it properly. When I put it on, it started leaking and running down my back. I took it off and poured some of the fluid out thinking I had overfilled it. I closed it again but it still leaked and then I realized I was closing it backwards.
I got going again and crossed a road to get to the last little loop of the course. This part of the course was a wide grassy path that wound its way through the woods. You could see other runners through the trees but it was hard to tell if they were ahead or behind. The course was marked in 5K increments and the last 5K seemed to last forever. I ran past my cooler as I came back to the start/finish area and went left to start lap #2. I clicked my watch and it said 3:11 for 3.5m and 25K.
On the second lap I found my groove and was feeling better about life. I caught up with a couple of guys who were running the race together. I never did get their names but they helped pull me along. We ran and walked at the same times and sometimes I would get ahead but then they would catch up and get a little ahead of me.
Towards the end of the second lap I found out their goal was to finish around nine hours. I looked at my watch and started doing the math. We were just under six hours with one lap to go. I completed the second lap in 2:43 and figured if I could maintain this pace then I could finish under nine. That was all I needed to keep going. The two guys pulled off to the side where their stuff was and I kept going figuring they would catch back up to me but I never saw them again until the finish line.
After a quick pit stop, I saw a woman ahead of me who I spoke with at the race start and I knew her goal was also to finish under nine hours. She became my next carrot. I wasn’t going to push my pace too much to catch her but I was hoping that she would slow down with fatigue and I could catch her. I caught up to Jamie whom I met that morning. His feet were hurting him with plantar fasciitis and slowing him down. He told me how the woman in front, who had her husband pacing her, had passed him and the husband wasn’t nice about it-cutting him off on the trail so the wife could have the preferred path. Jamie also told me he noticed the husband was carrying a fuel belt and asked if he was muling for her. The husband smiled and didn’t say no but did comment she was only drinking at the aid stations. He said he reported it to one of the race directors who happened to be out on the course and is a friend of his. I figured if the directors did something about it then great but if not then I was satisfied knowing I finished all on my own.
It wasn’t until we reached the last 5K that the husband looked back and saw me. It took a moment to figure out what color number I had and then he was urging her on. I kept my pace figuring he could push all he wants but she’s only going to go so fast and in my mind they were cheaters. I knew that I was going to finish under nine hours which to me was as good as winning.
Finally the road crossing was in sight and around the corner was the finish line. I thought about dropping my hydration pack at my cooler but decided to keep it on as my own personal symbol that I carried my own stuff. I crossed the line in 8:40:?? And about a minute behind the woman I was chasing. I was immediately awarded a cow bell and a pint glass which a friendly volunteer was more than willing to fill with beer for me. I passed on the beer feeling a bit overwhelmed with the finish line activities of gathering my prizes, tearing off my bib number, music blaring in the background, staying in order exiting the chute and then having to decide on a beer flavor.
I exited the chute and ran into Nate. He introduced me to his family and told me he had a great race finishing in 7:40 and tenth overall. They were getting ready to leave but I told him he had to call Jack. After Nate got done, I talked to Jack and then went to get some food. Paul Lowe, who had won the 50K race, was there and so I hung with him while I ate. The 50m awards were coming up so I decided to stay and watch. Brian R and Amy Lane won overall in record setting times. Then the age group awards started and my name was called for the Yard Woman category which is 35-44! The woman who finished ahead of me won the next age group but she didn’t receive her plaque.
I went back to the car and got my running bag to go take a shower at the YMCA that’s there. It felt good to be cleaned up and have fresh clothes on for the ride home. Overall, the race was well organized and run and I’m happy with my performance. It’s a race I would certainly go back to.