Prince William Forest Park was the venue for my fourth Ultra event of 2011 – the 12-HR Adventure Trail Race, directed by the excellent Athletic Equation guys. The course was slightly less challenging than the 24-HR ATR earlier this year, and featured a 6.5 figure eight loop made up mainly of single track and fire road. The terrain was a mix of rocks, roots, dirt with a few muddy spots thrown in for good measure. There were plenty of ups and downs to “keep the runners honest” throughout the race.
The race was due to start in darkness at 6:15am. Parking was quick and easy at the Telegraph Road picnic area – very cool to get a spot just 50m from the main aid station and start/finish clock. I spent the next 20 or 30 minutes getting my gear organized and reviewing race fuel needs with crew-Ally. After a short pre-race brief and a quick chat with some familiar faces from the 24-HR ATR, we were off.
Headlamps were definitely a good idea for the first loop, and we were also advised to take things easy and get to know the trails which would stand us in good stead for the rest of the day. I settled in to about 8th slot early on – keen to follow people who knew where they were going, and also wary of a fall or a trip on the many exposed roots and rocks on the course. After half a loop it was light enough that I could switch off the lamp.
The early pace was brisk, and I enjoyed chatting with eventual joint-female-winner Megan McGrath who, as a previous entrant, had good knowledge of the course. Somehow I managed to miss a turn on the way back to the main station and ended up looking at a grassy field with no orange streamers to indicate which way to go. I was in good company though, as eventual 3rd place guy Thaddeus Meyer also made the same “mistake” (he was ahead of me at the time), as did Megan and race winner, Olivier Leblond. We didn’t run much extra distance, and it was an easy error to fix.
I forgot to make a note of my lap time for the first loop, but know it was too quick, even though it felt ultra-comfortable. I breezed over the timing mat and through the main aid station, swapped out my Perpetuem for a bottle of HEED and hurriedly set off for loop number two. The next couple of loops are a bit of a blur, but I do remember chatting with Olivier for a fair amount of time. Turns out we’d both done our homework – he knew all about me and had found this blog detailing many of my race recaps and other posts. I knew he’d won the recent North Face 50km in DC, and also had a very impressive road marathon resume. Along with Thad, Olivier was my pre-race pick for the win. Gotta love the internet, right?
So, in true ultra-novice style, I finished loop two in 1 hour 52 minutes, knew the average 8:51/mile pace was a bit quick, but still managed to speed up to 8:30/mile pace in the third loop. How stupid?! I wasn’t overly concerned with the pace at this point, but was feeling a bit bloated from taking on a bit too much fuel in the first three hours. I decided to just carry water for a loop or two and ease off the pace to allow the fuel to flush through my system. It was also getting rather sticky out there with the temperature rising and the humidity level pretty high. Still very much early days though…
With a lap time of just over 56 minutes, loop four felt a lot more comfortable, and definitely more in line with my pre-race goal of one hour per loop. However, despite still feeling good, the old strategy of banking time early on in an ultra would come back to humble me later in the race. Loop five was more of a struggle. Olivier had already pressed strongly ahead, and somehow I succumbed to walking parts of the fire trail leading up to the halfway aid station. It was one of those weird “I’m not really tired, but think I’ll walk anyway” moments. The trail wasn’t unduly steep, so, other than a tight glute and semi-sore groin, I’m still not sure what happened.
Back at the main aid station I decided to stick with plain water and an Espresso Hammer Gel per loop. Not sure if it was the heat/humidity combo, but I couldn’t get excited for my staple Hammer supplies and the Perpetuem, Sustained Energy and HEED stayed in the cooler. I was careful to take in 3 Endurolyte capsules each loop though, and this definitely helped keep my electrolyte balance in check on a very swampy day.
Average pace per loop soon dropped to over 10 minutes/mile and to be honest the next five laps turned into a mental game of “playing it safe to achieve my 10 loops and complete 65 miles within the 12 hour time limit”, which was my main goal heading into the race. I’m a little disappointed that I opted to play it safe, and not push slightly harder to go for the 11 loops. Looking back, I think I knew Olivier had the win wrapped up (he was at least 20 minutes ahead of me at the 7 loop stage), and with a busy fall/winter race schedule lined up there was no real reason to kill it for the sake of an extra 6.5 miles.
My last lap was a fun one. As I headed out to cross the suspension bridge, Thad was coming back to end his 9th loop. It was cool to exchange a few words and wish each other well. He’s had a monster year of ultra running with at least a couple of 100 Milers in addition to the 24-HR ATR in May where he logged an impressive 103.25 miles. He told me he also has the Grindstone 100 coming up next month, so there was really no reason to bust out another loop on this hot/humid day.
I finished loop ten in 10 hours 48 minutes (at the time I thought I was much closer to 11 hours to be honest). I guess with 1 hour 12 minutes left on the clock there was a chance to run an extra loop, but the appeal of kicking off my shoes, sitting in a comfortable chair with a cold adult beverage was way too tempting. It was also very cool to watch other runners finish and to cheer them on. Olivier crushed the overall win with an impressive 71.5 miles in 11 hours 11 minutes. Despite what he tells me, he still looked really strong at the finish. Very cool!
So, to sum up the 2011 12-HR ATR:
- I went into the race with a ten loop goal. I comfortably achieved the goal with plenty of time to spare, and as with most ultra events that I’ve run, I’m still shocked at the distance I was able to cover – 65 miles is a LONG way on foot.
- I finished the race with only moderate muscle soreness and minor feet issues (just a weird blister on the end of my little toe) – definitely much better than the 24-HR event which really beat me up.
- I made several new friends but also met up with some familiar faces from the 24-HR ATR – great people who love to challenge themselves just as much as I do.
- I thoroughly enjoyed the event and can take away many lasting memories, which is one of the things Race Director, Alex stressed at the pre-race briefing.
- I challenged myself and learnt a lot, which will definitely stand me in good stead for future races.
- Very happy with the 2nd place overall – it’s been quite a year for solid Ultra performances!
Speaking of future races, I have a typically heavy schedule lined up for the next few months. Basically this means I’ll be taking it easy this week as I regroup and switch priorities to the Cardiff Half Marathon, Marine Corps Marathon and Cayman Islands Marathon which all take place before the end of the year. Good times. Happy Miles.