Melissa and I ran the 30 mile Farmdale Trail Run on Saturday near East Peoria, IL. We heard about this race just a couple weeks ago from our friend Chris, and since Melissa’s parents live nearby they were able to watch Will while she and I spent hours in the woods.
All the pieces had fallen into place for me. My training in the weeks leading up to the race was top notch. I had run personal best times on two of my favorite trails in the Saint Louis area without trying very hard. My heart rate was lower than ever for the pace I was running. I was running up hills with ease, thanks to the time spent on the Stairmaster. I was finally fully recovered from Howl at the Moon and I felt my fitness had even improved since then.
I had never run the trail before, so I didn’t know exactly how fast I would be able to go, but I made some educated guesses. As long as the trail wasn’t too hilly or technical I thought I had a realistic chance to average 8 minute miles to finish in 4 hours. And based on previous results, that should put me near the top of the field. It was a bit of an audacious goal for me, but, for the first time ever in a race of this distance on this sort of terrain, I felt I could back it up.
The rain began to fall lightly just minutes before the start of the race. The 30 mile race and the 10 mile race started together, while the 50 mile race had started 3 hours earlier. With the faster 10 mile runners and the slower 50 mile runners all on the trail together there was a bit of confusion as to what my place was at any given time. I started with a pack of 10 milers and by 4 miles in I had passed and left them all behind. The early miles were effortless. Despite the light rain the trail was in terrific condition. I finished the first 10 mile loop in 1:20, exactly on my desired 8 minute pace. Only 3 of the 113 10-mile runners were ahead of me. Old Rob (which was actually the young Rob) would have crashed and burned late in the race after pulling a stunt like this. But not today, I felt great.
I picked up some food and water and set back out. The rain was picking up and the trail was getting a bit muddy. Now that the 10 milers were off the course I asked a few 50 milers as I passed them if there were any 30 milers ahead of me. Most of them were just as confused as I was, but I had a strong suspicion there weren’t. I just hoped/assumed I was in the lead, but pretended I wasn’t.
Around 14 miles in I had to take off my (prescription) sunglasses because the sky was so dark. I simply wasn’t able to see the trail. And without my glasses everything was blurry, but this effect wore off a bit as I continued on. By this point it was absolutely pouring. I had to slow down around all the (numerous) turns to avoid sliding right off the trail. Then on the second half of the loop there were about 3 miles of trail that were covered in standing water, which slowed me down even more. I still felt great, but it was obvious I had no chance of making my time goal. With the trail in this condition I couldn’t have run a lap at that pace if it was the only lap I had to run all day.
I completed the second lap in 1:28, almost a full minute per mile slower than the first lap. And the trail kept getting worse from there. I picked up my headphones and listened to music for the third lap to try to keep me motivated. I started to get a little tired, but I still had plenty left in the tank. It was just all I could do to keep from falling over on the turns, or sliding on my ass down the frequent ravine traversals. I had slowed down a lot by now. With 2-3 miles left I picked up the pace and finished really strong.
I had been passing 50 milers the whole race and on my third lap I was passing 30 milers as well. I hadn’t seen Melissa yet, but I thought she probably wasn’t too far ahead. She’s not a highly experienced trail runner and she picked a hell of a day to gain experience. I exited the woods into the open field to head to the finish line and I saw her just ahead. I caught up and finished my third lap at the exact same moment she finished her second lap, 4 hours and 27 minutes after we began. She was in good spirits and was preparing to gut out one more lap on the trail in horrendous conditions (it just kept getting worse and worse all day).
As I was chatting with Melissa the race timer informed me I was the first 30 mile finisher. Huzzah. It was a long, hard, nasty (at times) race, but I felt really great and I ran well. Melissa went back out and did what needed to be done. It was not pleasant for her, but she showed some serious guts. In the meantime I changed into dry clothes and ate and drank everything in sight. I chatted for a while with a few old friends and made some new ones. Melissa finished a few hours later, happy the race was finally over.
She was worried that she would finish dead last, but she was right in the middle, 24th of 47 overall and 4th female. Pretty good for her first trail ultra.