Before I hit “publish” on my post last week, I had some moments of self doubt. I had only decided to run this race 4 weeks prior and hadn’t technically been training for a marathon until then. I had certainly been running but not with the intention of racing, and definitely not a marathon. Though, as I wrote before, I felt fantastic during the 5 hours I paced Leighanna at Burning River so I knew a trail marathon was within my reach.
After tentatively broaching the topic with Abbie, whom I’d spent the summer running trails with, we both pulled the trigger on LNT and signed up after BR. We both continued to train for a few weeks and before I knew it, marathon day was here.
I knew very little about this course other than it was four, 6.55 mile loops and described as mostly single track. I found it a challenging but mostly runnable course. I was surpised with how much of it I did end up being able to run versus power walking and hiking. Of course those steep sections did exist (and power hiking more prevalent as the race wore on) but overall I found it to be ideal in terms of runnability (made up word).
The course lies entirely within the confines of Camp Manatoc, a local boy scout Camp, which itself lies within the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, a place I frequently train. Because it is a Scout camp, the trails at Manatoc aren’t open to the public save for this event once per year. That was part of the allure for me as well-I couldn’t train on this trail whatsoever and didn’t know anyone who’d run the course as it currently exists. (The course has changed a few times over the years.)
The course starts off on a paved road and quickly enters a trail. This section was fairly wide and we were able to run a few abreast. We then exited the woods and entered a rocky road section about 1 mile in and the first aid station which I mostly skipped as it was very close to the start and finish of each loop. Then we ran a mostly uphill rutted dirt road as we finally made our way back into the woods. It was here that I found the most technical sections-there was a fair amount of descents which were steep and challenging to run down for me. The course was all single track at this point which it remained for most of the loop, save for some sections at the end. As we emerged from this section back to the rocky road, you hit the aid station again after running through a beautiful grassy field, and then were back into the woods quickly for another technical section. Eventually the trail spit us out onto the main road into camp and we hit another aid station in about a quarter mile. From here we made our way through another 2.5 miles of trail including some beautiful falls. The trail eventually became a series of switch backs and ended back at the field that the loop began and the final aid station. Complete it 4 times for a marathon, twice for half.
On race morning, I woke up around 5:40am, dressed quickly and quietly snuck out of my house. And took a selfie first.
I was later really happy I took this pic as chris checked my Instagram to see what I was wearing so he could spot me 😂. I stopped at Starbucks for my pre race hydration of choice (black coffee) and made the 20 minute drive to Camp Manatoc while eating one of Chris’ gluten free pop tarts for breakfast (a long held pre race ritual.) I found Abbie quickly and we made our way to the dining hall which brought back so many camp memories from my own childhood. We then found Leighanna and caught up with other friends before the race started and of course took a few pre race pics
Loop 1: I started out very slow and conservatively which meant that I lost Abbie and Leighanna almost immediately (they’re super speedy!). This loop went by quickly for me and I tried to remain at a steady 12.30 pace other than the uphills in which I just tried to maintain forward momentum. During the first few miles, I caught up with my good friend Candace, and also made quick friends of a fellow crossfitter who was doing her first half marathon. After about mile 5, I spent the rest of the race running alone other than when I was passing people or being passed. I came in to the AS at exactly 90 minutes, feeling good with fresh legs, which was my plan.
Loop 2: I grabbed a handful of M&M’s and some tailwind from the AS and quickly headed out. My plan was to spend the least amount of time at the aid stations as possible- I have a bit of a habit of lingering and socializing but I really wanted to minimize that during this race.
Exhibit A, lingering at an AS, posing for pics Plan was to run everything I ran the previous loop and maintain the same, if not slightly faster pace. Goal achieved and I finished this loop about 3 minutes faster than loop 1. Knowing I’d see Chris and Liam as well as my crossfit coach and friend Martin once done with loop 2, really helped me to push a bit on this loop. I also ended up running past a bunch of MRTT friends out cheering as well as some friends who’d completed the half marathon. I said hello, kissed my family, updated them and moved out quickly. All told, I probably spent about 3- 5 minutes at the AS before heading out.
Loop 3: this loop sucked. I knew it would and mentally planned for it. I know how hard second to last loops are for me. Before the race, I told myself that this was the loop I would allow myself to suffer on. I could feel bad for myself but I wouldn’t stop moving. And that’s mostly what happened. The temps had risen to the upper 80’s, and the exposed sections were that much more intense. It sucked but I pushed through knowing that if I was patient, it would soon be time for the last loop. So much of running for me is about patience and I tried to think of this as an opportunity to embrace the discomfort and practice digging deep. This loop ultimately took about an hour and 40 minutes as I had begun to slow down. The downhills has started to hurt the tips of my toes so I became much more conservative running those sections which cost me some time.
Loop 4: at the aid station I refilled my water (I’d gone through almost 2 liters in 20 miles) and headed out. I headed to the trail with an older gentleman and we both remarked on how little we had left to run- a morning run he said. I agreed and took off for my last loop. As expected, my legs were really slowing down at this point. I was hot, tired and feeling the effects of the downhills. Each time I felt over it, I reminded myself that this was the last time I’d have to run that step or section.
At mile 22ish, I hit an aid station and consumed a ton of Mountain Dew, pickles and chips. I immediately felt better which led me to believe that my electrolytes were off. However, a short time later, I became nauseated and had some stomach cramping. I knew that I was either going to be fine, puke, or poop and i decided I was just going to be ok with whatever happened as there wasn’t much I could do to change the situation. Acceptance at work.
Fortunately, I didn’t puke or poop but the nausea continued which slowed me down. Chris texted me that he was at the finish line and I told him my stomach had gone south, that I was still mowing but slowly. At that point I was about 2.5 miles out. I think it took me 30+ minutes to cover that distance! I even got the “you ok?” text which made me laugh out loud at how absurdly slow I was moving. My mindset was just keep on moving.
Tired but moving. I get a bit of a forward hunch when I’m running and tired. Bad habitEventually I heard the noise from the band at the finish line. I tried to pick up the pace and run the uphills which didn’t feel good but I didn’t care. Abbie, who had finished about an hour earlier, was waiting at the top of the trail and in true Abbie fashion, was cheering all the runners in. I hit the last tenth of a mile hard and brought it in with a smile. I loved hearing the band yell congrats to me as I ran through the finish. I also loved when Liam immediately grabbed my medal (it was a few days before I saw it again!)
Leighanna and Abbie and I caught up on our races- Abbie had a great first marathon and Leighanna was 4th in her AG!I downed some ice cold water which tasted amazing after the hours of warm water I’d been drinking from my pack. I hung out for a few more minutes and then headed to my car. The rest of the day was spent trying to rehydrate and keep moving – I find it really helpful for my recovery to not take a nap after a long run or race.
Later, I indulged in a delicious shake shack shroom burger for dinner and walked around for a while after.
I ended up taking all of Sunday off other than a 2ish mile hike and but felt good enough to head to the gym on Monday. So far, I’ve felt great and my soreness subsided in about a day. Really thrilled with this race and my effort. I hit my “B” goal of sub 6.30 and feel completely satisfied that I gave it my all. I would definitely do this race again!