A sizable number of Patapsco Trail Junkies showed up for the Rick O'Donnell trail run in Greenbrier State Park.
Our group was planning on distances from 2 loops to 6 loops (50K) to however many would fit into 8 hours. I was thinking about 4 or 5, depending on how it was going. I really wanted to do 6 but knew my training wasn't exactly up to supporting that ;) at least, not in an enjoyable fashion. I had run a marathon a few weeks ago but caught a minor flu/cold (thanks a lot, open office floorplan) and fell a bit off my schedule.
This event featured a 5.22 mi loop that runners could either do once, or as many times as they could in 8 hours. The first loop was pretty crowded, but that's because 75% of the runners just did one loop. For loops 2+, it was nearly empty!
I started running with Gretchen, a fellow PTJ member, and I mentioned that I thought it was pretty suspect that a trail could be measured to 2/100 ths of a mile accuracy. That's just... beyond belief. I think there is a deeper symbolism - perhaps Rick O'Donnell, who the race is a memorial for, was born on May 22 or something along those lines.
The initial path led along a paved trail, then over grass, then onto a nice flat single track. I thought to myself, this is going to be fantastic, but then we hit some loose, small rocks. And this terrain dominated the rest of the loop.
The trail wound around, and every turn was very well marked. We hit a few rollers and then a major climb which is obvious from my GPS elevation data. Gretchen and I were together until this point, where she climbed the hill in a faster gear than I climbed the hill. ;)
Soon she was out of sight but that was fine; everybody needs to run their race and I was being careful due to my ankle, and getting over the final few days of being sick.
The trail was well forested, so there never really was a good view of the surrounding area. We circled a lake, but could only see it near the start/stop/aid station. The weather was pretty good, just a bit on the warm side but not too bad, and I just concentrated on footing while running along and enjoying the event.
The single aid station was phenomenal. It had everything: 5 flavors of Pringles, small potatoes, watermelon, Swedish fish, gel and protein bars, salt, gatorade and water, tons of snacks (red licorice, M&Ms, pretzels), quartered PB&J sandwiches, pickles, etc. I mentioned the pickles and a volunteered offered to pour me some of the juice - I've read pickle juice is a great fuel for ultras, but I declined since I've never tried it and figured the middle of an event is not the place to start. People were also cooking burgers for finishers - remember this was a timed event so people could stop whenever they wanted and therefore would want food throughout the event. I should have taken a picture of the tables they set up, I had a mental checklist and everything was there and then some when I scanned over it.
On my loop 3 I caught up to a fellow runner and we chatted a bit - she is in an event I'm signed up for as well that is coming up in November. I also caught up to Chris, who was in PTJ as well but I never met him in person until earlier that morning. I had a burst of energy and eventually pulled away.
At the aid station I had to take a shoe off and remove a small rock, which somehow got in there even though I had my Dirty Girl gaiters on.
Loop 4 was tough. (See Garmin info; I took a lap split at the aid station and I was dragging along on loop 4 compared to loops 1-3). My legs were a bit stiff, and I started stumbling on roots and rocks. I caught myself from falling 2 or 3 times before the big mid-loop climb. About this time I decided I would just do 4 loops since I didn't want to trip and/or pull a muscle catching a fall, all of which seemed more likely since I was getting tired and my calf was stiffening up a bit.
Some of the trickiest terrain was near the end, coming off the red trail onto orange (which fed into the paved trail section leading by the lake). It was downhill with roots and rocks, so I was extra careful. I didn't want to do 19 mi and then twist my ankle right at the end! Fortunately I didn't and when I reached the aid station I told the timer I was going to stop.
After resting for ~30 mins or so, drinking some chocolate milk and munching some food, I made my way up to the parking lot. I was hoping to see some others while waiting there but I decided to go before getting too tired (I drove myself in the morning, since I didn't know how many loops I was going to do).
Later, I was happy to NOT have a headache. Often after a long training run or race, I get home and have a dull headache in the evening. I figured it was due to dehydration but even after drinking tons during a run, I would still get them. After reading and searching, I saw somebody ask this question on the Trail and Ultra Running Facebook group - and the general consensus was: headache due to low electrolytes. Aha, that makes a lot of sense. Up until recently I was using a pack with a reservoir, which I would fill with water. So even with eating/drinking salty stuff at aid stations, I could see getting low on electrolytes. At last week's Dam Half, I tried Nuun tablets in the bottles. Unfortunately I still got a headache but that was likely due to only using 1 tablet per bottle when I should have used 2 (new pack has 20 oz bottles).
For this run, I used 1 scoop of Tailwind in each bottle. The recommended amount is twice that, but I find that much Tailwind concentration gives me a stomach cramp - perhaps this is something to get used to. Anyway, drinking all of both bottles plus having some extra salt at the aid station (Pringles, pretzels, salt on a watermelon slice), and I had no headache. I'll be sure to keep trying various combos of electolyte supplements to nail this issue. For example, next training run I'll try two Nuun tablets per bottle, etc.
Anyway, it went well and I think most of us would be happy to return to the event next year. It was low key and well supported and not too far away. The trail was challenging with one large climb halfway through the loop, an opportunity to work on hiking speed. ;)