In my experience, trail runners find their way to the sport in a variety of ways. Some are converted road-runners, some are hikers that just sped up, and others are drawn to the variety and scenery that trails offer over the average road run. There seems to be a common trajectory once people find their way to trail running, and that is eventually (or immediately) pursuing an ultra marathon distance. One of the greatest aspects of the Labor Pain 12-hour Endurance Race, is the opportunity to see folks from almost all levels of experience competing on the same field, each with their own goals and measures of success. Whether you are trying to reach the golden ring of 15 miles, a marathon, or 75 miles, you’ve got 12 hours to shuffle through, with a supportive crowd every 5 miles and aid stations every 2.5 miles. This is a perfect environment to try to reach your farthest distance (unless you are already in the 100-mile range. Then its a great training run!)
We got up bright and early on Sunday morning in order to make it to the Reading Liederkrans for the 7:30 Am start time. I know grains are getting a bad name in some nutrition circles, but I’ll stand by standard pre-race breakfast: Steel-cut oats with almond/peanut butter, a banana, espresso.
We arrived in plenty of time, and had a great time catching up with old friends and making a few new ones. The course itself is a five-mile loop, comprised mostly of runnable single track. There are some short pavement sections and a few tough hills, but that just made for plenty of variety (hate to get bored over the course of 12 hours!). I started in the middle of the pack and got stuck in the all-too-familiar conga line on the first loop. This was certainly a blessing as it stopped me from going out too fast and burning out on the first lap. I picked up the pace for the next two laps, and was feeling pretty darn good. No nutrition at this point besides a few gummies. At mile 15, a friend jumped in and paced me for the next two laps. It was great to have somebody to chat with and help push me forward.
After Mile 15, my lovely wife got suited up and jumped in to pace me for the rest of the race. I was still feeling pretty good, but starting to slow down a bit. We started walking the hills and cruising on the downhills & flats. While I managed to pass by the temptation of “alternative sport beverages” for most of the laps, around mile 22.5 I decided a bit of Pottsville Swill would help lift my spirits. After that, I imbibed about half a beer per lap, and started eating pretzel rods for salt+carbs. Having Rachel along for the last few loops was a huge help. Somewhere along the 7th loop I started really dragging. The oppressive humidity and heat were really getting to me, and I hadn’t run farther than 20 miles in one shot since April of 2010. We decided to call it at 40 miles, and spend the remaining hours enjoying the Liederkrans Bar and cheering on the remaining runners.
I still think I could have gutted through the last 10 miles to get to 50 prior to the cutoff time – but I would have been miserable. Instead, I stopped at 40 and felt pretty damn good. No injuries, still able to walk around and drive home without any problems. Perhaps with a bit more training I’ll take another stab at that 50 mile mark next year…