Despite being in "full" Richmond Marathon training mode I decided I just couldn't pass up a second go around at Punxsy's infamous course. For those not "in the know" Punxsy is a mostly runnable 50k, the majority of it being a downhill grade, flat, or mild inclines that are runnable, except for those 6 hills which are practically vertical. We are talking reach out and touch the ground in front of you steep, and oh yeah there lots of loose rocks that make falling a good possibility (2007 Video, not for the weak). Frank has a good chart up on his blog comparing the Punxsy Hills to the infamous Boston Marathon hills.
AKA for me last year this course was a body wrecker. So major goals going in this year included not wrecking my body. Having only 10 weeks to Richmond and having to pace Akron next week I didn't feel I could afford to have too much time for recovery. Last year I couldn't even run the day after this race so I knew this might be a tall order!
Other goals included having a good time, just enjoy myself out on the course and not get uber competitive, hopefully despite backing off the pace to save my quads and body from getting beat up still run a sub 5, and since they brought back the Punxsy Phil stones this year I was secretly hoping to take one home :)
The Punxsutawney Phil Stones!
We left Friday afternoon and I rode down with the SERC boys. It was thankfully an uneventful ride and we all made it in one piece. The good company was welcome and relaxing for this usual hyperventilating passenger. We got to Punxsy and headed straight to check in which was moved to the local hotel this year. Fun surprise this year at the sign up we got to try on jackets and for our finishers prize they will be sending us a Punxsy Jacket (our choice of color even)! This race has the best goodies! Each year in your goody bag you get a Punxsy Phil Beanie Baby, a groundhog brew, and a technical t-shirt. On top of that the race has a door prize raffle the night before the race and a spaghetti dinner where you get to meet Punxsy Phil. This year I won a case of Groundhog Brew (Straubs), we actually cracked into it last night and despite it sitting around since February it tasted all right :)
Ready to get to Punxsy
Me and the SERC Boys
Me and another SERC boy
Me and Punxsy Phil
After dinner I left the SERC boys to their hotel room and was off to the RDs house to crash on the floor for the night. Of course I slept like crap, but that's nothing unusual the night before a race. I did sleep like a log from 5:10 to 5:30 AM. I swear I thought someone had set their alarm for 5:15 and then realized that nope it was time to wake up and get ready. I was surprised I didn't sleep better, because I didn't feel like I was very nervous about the race (other than getting down two beers in one piece). Downed some cheerios and a cup of coffee then it was off to the start.
It was a little chilly at the start at it was drizzling as we checked in but the rain stopped just in time to walk over to the start line. My plan was to try and stick with PR and Frank and try to run a bit more conservatively than last year. Hmmph. Apparently PR was not too keen on taking it so conservatively. Frank made it clear quick that he wasn't hanging with us because we were going too fast. We were heading uphill on pavement and running with PR and DP. The pace felt fine, but we definitely weren't taking it "easy."
My knee was feeling okay until I felt a searing twinge go through it around mile two that got me worried. It passed quickly and the dull radiating ache I had been having was there again and I just hoped it wouldn't get worse as the run went on. (I was cleared to run by the doc, assured that I was doing no permanent damage, but no guarantee on when the pain would go away for good) As we neared two beers I prepped for the decline and gravity pulling it's own weight. The guys pulled ahead but I made it safely down two beers and despite feeling like I had gone out easier than last year arrived at the same time (32 minutes). (Which just means we ran a lot faster on the pavement because I definitely pussy footed my way down two beers this year)
I asked for Heed at the aid station because at Buckeye 50k I had definitely run low on energy after mile 20 and I didn't want to repeat that again. I knew it would be absolutely disgusting but I was determined to get in some more calories. No Heed so I settled for a cup of Gatorade and a slice of watermelon and was on my way.
The next section takes you through some old fields with some small rollers. I could see the guys ahead and also a girl running with her husband who looked really fit. I tried not to focus on her but despite myself I was well aware I was in 2nd for females. I just tried to settle into my own comfortable pace and decided I shouldn't try to gap the guys.
I caught up to the girl relatively quickly and said hello. This was her first time at Punxsy and despite looking fierce she didn't give me much of a battle to the next aid station. She went back and forth with me on some rollers, pulling ahead on the ups, but as we reached a long gradual climb she fell back. It wasn't long before another girl passed me though and she was booking up the hill.
We came into the first aid station 2 minutes slower than I had last year at 1:07. Again no Heed so I grabbed a slice of watermelon and a pb and j quarter. I had taken my first electrolyte capsule at 30 minutes and an E-Gel at 60 minutes. The plan was to take one electrolyte pill every hour and every other hour (every hour on the hour) take an E-Gel. So every thirty minutes I would be getting in electrolytes. The temperatures weren't bad but the humidity was really high and despite feeling realtively cool I was covered in sweat pretty quickly. I was carrying my handheld for water and had two gels and my capsules in my skirt pocket and an additional gel in my bottle ready to go in addition to whatever I could get at the aid stations.
At the second aid station you turn right into the woods and proceed to go around an approximately 8 mile loop that includes three large hills. The first one you come to is Yellow Bus. Yellow Bus is, like Two Beers, practically vertical and unless your name is Mark Godale you are trudging rather than running up this hill. I'm certainly no Billy Goat but I managed to get up pretty quickly this year and even could see PR and C up ahead of me and hollered at them that they were looking good.
There was a photographer on top of Yellow Bus taking pictures. Thankfully he took them of us at the top and not coming up the hill!
First Time on top of Yellow Bus
The next few miles to the 7 springs station are mostly downhill with a few rollers. Before 7 springs you hit one more steep but thankfully shorter hill named Cry Baby. This section last year helped to shred my quads early on in the race. Last year by the time I finished the first loop my quads were pretty much trashed. Not good when you are only half way done with the race!
Shortly after Yellow Bus a girl in yellow caught me. I recognized her from last years race as the girl who came in second a few minutes ahead of me. We chatted and both said our main goal of the day was to break 5 hours. I commented on how I wasn't sure if I was running quite aggressively enough since the guys I train with were up ahead, but I felt good and the pace felt fine so I was just holding steady. I asked her what other races she had done this year and she said she hadn't done much so I assume this was her focus race since she was back again. I also asked her about the other girl who had passed me coming into the Buck Run aid station and she said she was a relay runner so we noted that we were in first and 2nd but both content with whatever place we got as long as we were under 5 hours.
We ran together through the next aid station where I grabbed another pb & j quarter. Hit the station at 1:44 which was actually a minute faster than last year (although I had no awareness of how I was doing compared to last year while out on the course). Obviously sticking with the gal in yellow was keeping my pace up so I stayed with her as we trudged through the boggy detour the course has to take because some local guy doesn't want us on the 100 feet of trail that runs along his property. The bog seemed to be better this year, they must have done some clearing because there wasn't as much ducking and jumping involved, but it was still muddy!
The next few miles are slightly uphill on a gravelly grass path that runs along a small creek. I pulled a bit ahead of the gal in yellow here but not by much. I noticed she had headphones so I didn't feel too bad about running in my own zone. You pop out of the woods and run about 2 miles up a series of pavement hills back to the Buck Run aid station. Last year I ran almost all of these because I was so nervous about the girls behind me. This year I walked the last stretch and let the gal in yellow pull away from me at the aid station. I was getting too focused on competing and not focusing on just running my own pace and having fun so I let her go and made a slower than usual aid station stop. As I was coming into the station I saw C and PR up ahead and yelled that they better pick it up or I was going to catch them. Heard some smirky reply about no skirt was going to catch C as they ran back into the woods to start the second loop.
Came into the aid station at 2:24. At this point I realized I was running pretty close to 5 hour pace, and that I'd have to make sure to hold steady to keep that goal as a possibility. I scored some vaseline from the volunteers for my arm. I thought it was chafing from my sports tank but later remembered I had scratched it on a picker bush. They handed me the vaseline jar and I had to prompt them for something to apply it with. No way did I want vaseline on my hands for the next 16 miles! I grabbed another pb & j quarter here and a watermelon and headed back into the woods.
I got passed by a guy here that I remembered from last year. We had run near each other most of the race last year and had finished together. He looked strong and passed me quickly heading to Yellow Bus. I saw Joe Trask with some lady trekkers to keep him company and said hello. They had been out there since 5 AM! As I made my way up Yellow Bus for the second time I could see PR ahead and he was taking a few breaks so I figured he was either waiting for me or was feeling pretty ragged.
Yellow Bus the 2nd Time Around
Turns out he was feeling ragged but he stuck with me to Cry Baby before having to pull up a bit due to cramps. I was by myself for the most part after that. I was just enjoying the day and trying to have a good run. I was starting to pass trekkers every now and again who would give me updates on how far behind the gal in yellow I was. I would always just tell them they were looking great and say thank you. I had the garmin on but wasn't very focused on it. At the aid stations I would check my average pace and total mileage. As I rolled into Seven Springs Aid Station they announced this was mile 19 and I hit it at 3:02 (three minutes ahead of last years time). The Garmin was short of that (surprise surpise, not really since it has been short on every single trail race I have done this year) so I kept that in mind while calculating my pace. I grabbed a cola to get a caffeine boost and another pb & j quarter and made my way out of the station.
For those with math skills you may have realized by now that having only three gels and running 5 hours I was going to run out at some point. I decided to skip the gel at 3 hours and save it for 4 hours so I would have the extra energy boost in the final miles. I was still worried at this point that pb & j quarters weren't going to be enough fuel but I felt really good so I just stuck with that. Through the bog again and I finally "caught up" to Leo and a few other local friends. I called out hellos and got a boost from Leo's enthusiasm. He will be 80 this year!!! I was just stoked that I felt so much stronger than last year through this section. My quads felt great, my energy was good, and I was having fun.
As I made my way onto the pavement rollers back up to Buck Run I glanced at the Garmin and tried to do some math. I was starting to realize sub 5 was in the balance and I wasn't going to achieve it if I stayed at the same pace. I needed to kick it up a notch if I wanted to ensure a sub 5. I envisioned texting my friends with a "2nd female, and 5:01 again" and was determined not to make that a reality. I passed a long line of gals here who were on their first loop. One was talking to another mentioning how if the girl ahead of them would just stand up straight she would be doing worlds better, I had to laugh and mentioned that I sure hoped I looked good once I pulled away from them, knowing my tendency to slouch forward.
I was starting to catch up to C here and could see him as I climbed the first set of hills but dude must just fly on the downhills because as I crested one of the rollers he was nowhere to be seen. I thought maybe he had dodged into the woods to pee. I decided to again walk the last climb up to the Buck Run station and conserve my energy for the next stretch through water tower and back to the first aid station. Got to Buck Run at 3:44 (1 minute ahead of last years time). I knew it took me and hour and 7 minutes to get to the station in the morning and I knew that the Water Tower stretch was slightly longer, but I couldn't remember how much longer and I knew it would be close to break 5. I grabbed another pb&j quarter and some cola and told the volunteers to say hello to RH and TC for me when they came through.
I picked it up here and passed a few runners. The next section before the water tower hill is a lot of slight downhill and I just tried to cruise, clocking a bunch of sub 9s as I made my way to Water Tower. Got a "cute skirt" comment from a gal trekker that made me smile but for the most part I was on my own and going to work. As I came out of the woods and headed up the pavement hill toward Water Tower Hill I again saw C up ahead. Was starting to close in on him as we climbed the Water Tower Hill (Another doozy) but once again as I crested the hill he was gone. I did not have the nerve or balance to fly down the other side of Water Tower. I took it easy and just tried to stay on my feet. No sense in falling and ruining my whole day at this point.
I made it down safely and knew it was time to pick it up again. My knee was still sore but it hadn't got worse and pushing the pace wasn't bothering it. The sun had come out for a short stint earlier in the race but thankfully cloud cover was back at this point because I remember just frying in the sun on this section last year. Last year I could see the gal in yellow ahead of me through this section, but this year she was nowhere to be seen. I was running 8:30s through this section and trying to remember just how far this segment was. I knew I had to get to the last aid station by 4:20 to have a good chance of breaking 5. Last year it took me 37 minutes to run the last 3.7 miles and I remembered how slow I was going up two beers and didn't want to be cutting it close!
I started to gain on C again and could see another guy in a yellow hat. I was pushing pretty hard and just doing my best to get to that next aid station. I took my last gel at 4 hours and hoped the boost would help me on my way. As I (Finally!) pulled into the last aid station I looked down at my watch to see 4:19. This was great but I didn't want to let up. So far my quads were holding up but I didn't want to play around and miss that sub 5. I grabbed another cola and pb & j and passed a runner who I had chatted with early in the race as we reached two beer and started our hike to the top. I could see C and yelled up to him that I didn't know how he could run those down hills so fast. He responded by listing off his many running PR's to prove his point that he could indeed run fast when needed. I was huffing and puffing and did not bother to respond.
I thought to myself that while it may take two beers to convince yourself to run down this hill that you earn an f'ing keg if you make it up it! I actually cursed out loud when I crested the hill "F*ing Two Beers" and picked up the pace again as I ran downhill and once again was amazed at how C disappeared. Before long you are climing the last of the ridiculous hills, this one not quite so steep but still a walker. I took my last electrolyte pill a few minutes early since I didn't have much else to do besides drag my butt up this ridiculously steep hill.
My Garmin beeped and I looked down to see that this mile had taken me over 14 minutes! That put the fear in me and I picked up the pace while I could run. One last stream crossing and a few rollers and we were back on the pavement. I knew that meant two miles to go. I looked at my watch and knew I was golden as long as no unexpected cramps or searing knee pain were to arise I would definitely get sub 5. Now it was time to see how far below sub 5 I could get!
I stepped up the effort and was once again running under 9 minute pace, hitting an 8 minute mile on the slightly rolling pavement section up to the high school. As we made our way through the high school lot I passed C, surprisingly he just let me go, despite all his smack talk about how no skirt would beat him. I must honestly say I was pretty happy to pass him as I knew I was going to get shit from the VR and SERC guys about not coming in first it would be a good thing that I could at least say I beat one of our fast VR guys. (What can I say, I guess I am a competive jerk sometimes, even when I am not supposed to be racing)
The last mile I just ran as fast as I could. I was so happy that my quads were not a wreck and I could actually push the pace. The next mile I hit 7:15 and the final stretch I got down to 6:45 pace. I had this huge shit eating grin on my face as I cruised into the finish watching the clock and seeing 4:52. I was freaking ecstatic to have that sub 5 monkey off my back and to feel so strong the last 10 miles of the race. I really couldn't have asked for more. I went and grabbed a celebratory beer and then chatted with the other VR guys while we waited for Frank to come in.
The race also has a team competition where the top 5 runners of each team get scored like a cross country meet. The top team gets a free pair of montrail shoes for the top 5 members. The punxsutawney team had placed 1,2,3 and we had placed 4,7,13(me!),14 and we were waiting to see when Frank would get there and also wondering how the other two Punxsy guys would do. Well Frank ran a fantastic race and came in 4:59 for his second 50k! Placing 18th and handing us the team win!
I hobbled into the gym with Frank and DP to get showers. Last year I stood around so long cheering that when they took the newspaper photo of the top three gals I was still in my race outfit while the other gals were all cleaned up. Not this year! Especially since I knew we'd get to do photos with our stones I wanted to look presentable :) I waited while the first gal and her friend from the relay got cleaned up and sipped my beer while we chatted. I couldn't believe how good I felt and was just grooving on the running high. Hopped in for an extremely cold shower and then faced the awful stairs I had to climb down to get back out to the finish. For some reason the guys shower (which they have 2!) are on the first floor and the girls shower is on the 2nd floor. No matter how good I felt, climbing stairs after a 50k still freaking sucks!
1st set of stairs I had to climb down. Seriously Why are the girls showers on the 2nd floor?
Back outside I grabbed another beer and Frank grabbed me a "real beer" so like the famous hill we had just survived I was with two beers and having a good time. Posed with some friends, got my stone and got photographed for the newspaper.
Two Beers and a Happy RH!
A Stone and A Beer=A Happy E-Speed
This would be even funnier if that stone weren't so heavy!
Top 3 ladies and their stones
Newspaper Photo Blurb
Then Frank and DP and I made a McDonalds run. Frank kindly bought me a caramel sundae and some fries which absolutely hit the spot. Took a few photos around town as we made our way back to watch some other friends finish. All my friends did great, some of them had rougher days than others but they all finished. PR had a rough day but after a beer and a shower was smiling again and ready to take us all home.
One of Many Punxsy Phil Statues
Another Punxsy Phil Statue
Frank Goofing Around Post Race
Hopped in the car and made our way back to Ohio with a few pit stops to stretch the legs along the way. After my 4 or 5 beers I was feeling stellar and was having fun texting back and forth with SH and my other friends about how we all did at the race. Thankfully the guys put up with me and didn't make too much fun of me at our second stop when once the beers wore off and DOMS finally started to set in. DP was kind enough to get me my recovery drink of choice (Starbucks Frappacino!) at one stop and at another the guys thought I wouldn't be able to touch my toes so we had to stop at some steps so I could reach well beyond my toes. What can I say, my hamstrings felt great! It was the rest of me that was starting to hurt :) We made it back to PRs and stopped for a photo of most of the team before all heading our seperate ways back home.
Vertical Runner Team back at Home and Posing with their goods (my stone was already in the trunk)
I once again had a fantastic time at this race. As much as it beats you up it is really just a great run and so worth the money. So many of my friends do the race and the RD and his wife are just fabulous people. I don't know if my goals line up with doing this 50k every year but for sure I will at least do the relay every year. I just can't stay away!
Thanks to PR for hauling my ass to the race and back!
Thanks to Frank and DP for feeding and fueling my broke ass!
Thanks to the RD and his wife for being such lovely hosts and for bring back the stones!
Splits and comparison from last year for those stats nuts like me:
Not quite a negtive split but with two beers I think it was definitely a negative split effort. The difference in my times from Buck Run to the finish from last year to this year are really crazy! (Granted last year I was cringing with pain every down hill step!) Only odd thing I noticed is that this year I was slower on the sections from 7 springs to Buck Run that last year, but faster on the sections from Buck Run to 7 Springs both times around. Weird!