Yesterday I ran Riddle Run 11. This is a 28 mile ultramarathon held each January. You may recall that I was the first finisher at Riddle Run 10 last year, for which I was awarded the traveling trophy (a roll of toilet paper signed by the previous winners).
Last year I was in great shape, but the course was covered in 4" of mushy show. I must have ended up running twice the official distance just from my feet slipping around so much. I ran nice and easy, finishing in 4h56m. It just so happened that nobody else ran faster, so I was first.
This year I knew I wasn't in quite as good shape as last year, but we only had about 1" of snow on the ground (which, while not ideal, is much easier to run through than 4"). I was really disappointed with my run at Tecumseh last month, so I had something to prove to myself.
I started the run very easy. I picked a big group to run with and we talked and laughed the entire first (of seven) four-mile loop. I'm notorious for starting too fast and (like last year's Rockford marathon) I made damn sure not to make that mistake yesterday.
The second loop I picked up the pace a little bit, from 9:30 to 9:00 to 8:30. By the end of the second loop I was running slightly faster than 8:00 miles and I would stay at this pace for the next 12 miles or so. At the end of each loop I stopped by my car for 30-60 seconds to drink some gatorade and water and to grab a bite to eat.
"Ultras are just eating and drinking contests, with a little exercise and scenery thrown in."
-Sunny Blende, nutritionist (from Born to Run)
Over the course of 28 miles I ended up eating four mini Clif Bars, a banana, two flasks of chia gel, a bottle of Gatorade, a bottle of water, and six Enduralytes (electrolyte pills)... and it still wasn't enough. My stomach was growling the last eight miles.
During the middle part of the run the miles just flew by. Each time I finished a lap I thought to myself, I was just here a few minutes ago. I was flying and the miles were coming so easily, but it wouldn't last forever.
I started to tire around mile 20. I quickly realized could no longer maintain sub-8:00 miles and I started to question whether I would finish at all. After eating I started my 6th loop much slower and I felt a lot better. I could definitely finish by running closer to 9:00 pace.
The last two laps were a bit of a slog, but I kept shuffling along, and I never stopped to walk (a feat I've only accomplished one other time, at Rockford). Three miles from the end a fellow runner Jason and his friend absolutely flew past me. I had last seen them exactly 20 miles earlier when I had just started to pick up the pace. It was amazing how strong they were finishing. I crossed the 26.2 mile mark at 3h46m, making this my third fastest marathon ever. On a trail. Covered in snow.
Last year I finished the run with mile 28 being my fastest. This year it was my slowest (the second slowest this year was the first mile). I dragged myself across the finish line in 4h04m, my fastest Riddle Run by more than a half hour, and a full 50 minutes faster than last year (almost two minutes per mile!).
Jason and his friend had gained six minutes on me in the last three miles, and they finished first. Matt and another guy were in between us. It's rather amazing to me that the first five of us finished within six minutes of each other after such a long run.
So that was my fourth Riddle Run, my fifth ultra-distance run, my seventh trail marathon/ultra, and my 11th marathon or beyond. Of all those runs, this one was the third fastest, yet at the same time probably the easiest for me. Considering I didn't do any training specifically for this run, and I didn't taper at all, I guess I'd have to say that I'm in a little better shape than I thought I was. That's a good sign.