Three days straight of long distance running, "how hard can this be" I thought. I even managed to convince my fiance to sign up with me for her first ultra race! I mean, basically we were on a camping trip with a bunch of other like-minded athletes and we would get our morning run on then hang out for the rest of the day and relax. Sounds like a blast!
We packed up the car from Boston and drove up to the school which would be our "campground" for the 3 days. We weren't sure what to expect, but it was going to be warm out and there was a chance of rain. When we arrived, we decided to set up our camping area inside the gym instead of outside on the field thinking that having easier access to water, power, and bathrooms would be ideal. It was. We were soon the envy of the gym with our air mattress and tent set up (and NormaTec compression recovery boots) while most other runners had yoga mats and sleeping bags set up. I even managed to wander the school and find a nice blower fan which kept some air circulating on our tent and those around us and helped to dry our clothes after a wet first day of running.
Looking at the times from the previous year (the 1st year of the race) I thought there was a really good chance I could win the race or definitely podium throughout the three days. I wasn't very familiar with these trails so I emailed the RD before the race and he offered to chat with me on the phone a bit about the course, especially since he was the holder of the FKT for the 75 mile SRKG trail straight through. He went into great detail about each of the 3 stages and where might be trouble spots. It was great to have this insider knowledge going into the race. It absolutely helped.
Day 1 I still wasn't sure what to expect with this race, so I wanted to start out very easy on the first day, hang with the lead pack and just loosen up and hae fun. Really, I didn't want to feel like I was working hard at all. When the gun went off I started out with very easy effort even though this was the most challenging day with 2 big climbs up Raggad and Kearsarge Mountains. My average HR for the day was 167 (zone 2), but I didn't feel like I worked that hard overall. It turns out that reading maps and following directions would end up being a significant issue for me during these three days as I ended up getting lost at least once a day. On this day, I only got lost once and tacked on about another 1/2 mile. I ate some sort of nutrition every 45 minutes and went through 4 bottles of Tailwind nutrition in addition to a full bladder of water. I also had 4 salt tabs. Felt well hydrated and had plenty of energy throughout the race.
I finished the stage feeling good and in 3rd place only about 5 minutes out of 2nd place and 25 out of 1st place. I was pretty happy with this considering I really wasn't pushing myself much at all yet. At the finish line, I hung out and waited for Woo to come in and made sure to take in a lot of fluid and protein in order to help recovery and make sure I was well hydrated. Once we got back to camp Woo and I stretched/rolled/and sat in the NormaTec boots. (we were accused of "cheating" by some of the other runners, but I'm pretty sure they were kidding...?)
After the first run of the weekend it seemed like all the athletes loosened up a bit and became more friendly. We made friends with a group of athletes from the SIX03 Endurance group who were camped next to us in the gym. After runners got back to the campsite and showered, ate, napped, etc. there was dinner served (we opted for the meal package which was a great decision!) then a bonfire and a meeting to go over the course for the following day.
Day 2 I started off day 2 trying to keep the overall leader in my sights, but with a big mile + climb only a mile into the stage I wasn't able to do so, though I did take a nice lead over 2nd place. That is, until I went almost a mile or more down the wrong road (AGAIN!) after missing a left turn. As soon as I realized I had made a wrong turn, by asking a man walking his dog if he saw any other runners, I basically hit the gas hard and did everything I could to catch back up to the 2nd place runner. It took me about 6-7 miles to catch up towards the beginning of the climb up Mount Sunapee. Once I passed him I just kept the gas on and wanted to try and close the gap on 1st place, but slowed down a tad so as to keep some energy for day 3.
Unfortunately coming into the final stretch of the stage I also missed about a .4 mile stretch of course that went off the SKRG markers through the town of Sunapee and was penalized 4 min for that. My overall HR average for today was still only 158 though (zone 1). My nutrition was about same as day 1, with a focus to eat every 45 minutes and drink as necessary. I refilled my 2 hand bottles on the course for a total of 4 calorie bottles of nutrition. Also had 6 salt tabs. Again finished feeling pretty good and ended up building up a 20 minute cushion over 2nd place (less the 4 min penalty and 5+ min lead he had on me to start the day) which led me to about an 11 minute lead over 2nd place going into stage 3.
At this point I was about 45 minutes behind 1st place overall but was still contemplating trying to go all out and sneak past him for at least a stage win on day 3. That was until I looked at his Athlinks page and realized he was just overall a much quicker runner than I am at every distance. That being said, I decided not to throw the hammer down out of the gate (because it likely would have been me that broke and not him). Really glad I stalked him online and made that decision before stage 3 began.
The second stage finished at the campsite so that made it a big party and fun and easy to hang out with everyone as runners began to finish. I chilled (literally) in an ice pool and waited for Woo to come through the finish line. It was a blast chatting with all the other runners and just relaxing in the afternoon for a while before showering and taking a nap. After nap time we wandered about the campground a bit and then ate dinner and went back up to the field for the bonfire and meeting to go over the course for the 3rd and final stage of the race.
Day 3 At the start of day 3 we had to pack everything up and be out of the school before the race start so that required an earlier wake up than the past 2 days and extra work. As we approached the start line for the final time, I was very tired and mentally exhausted. I did my best to stay with the overall leader as long as I could...which lasted about 20 minutes. At the first aid station about 12 miles in I was told he was about an hour ahead (an hour already!), but I pressed on determined to leave it all out there and make up as much ground as I could.
There were a couple of times though when I started to bonk and had to throw in some extra caffeine gels to help get me back mentally going, but overall followed the same nutrition plan. Also I made a judgement call not to fill up my hydration bladder at the 2nd aid station to save a little time because I knew I had a little left and there was a water drop about 6 miles further up. I filled up my hand bottles and took off, though I was really cautious and maybe didn't drink enough during this time as it warmed up and I was worried about running out of water. I also had about 12 salt tabs throughout today.
I was so happy when I hit the water drop and filled up my bottles and knew I only had about 5-6 miles left to go. I just threw down the hammer and went as hard as I could to finish up the race, but again I added on almost another mile missing the turnoff which led to the final rail trail to the finish line (I really need to learn how to follow directions!). I finished the stage about 10 minutes behind the overall winner so must have made up some time on the later miles of the stage. I probably hurt myself more than I helped in those few miles where I was rationing my water and not drinking as much as I should have been. The first hour or so after I finished, I was a bit dehydrated and basically just laid on the grass past the finish line for half-hour or so to recover. I can definitely tell when I'm getting dehydrated during or after a race because my arms begin to get all tingly when that happens. Luckily there were plenty of people around who helped me to get in some more fluids and fresh fruit and was soon feeling much better. Luckily the dehydration didn't get anywhere near as bad as happened at the 8 hour race the month prior.
I ended up beating last year's winning time by 2 hours and 20 minutes and finishing in 2nd place by about an hour and about 1:30 ahead of 3rd place. Overall it was a big learning experience and I was very happy with my performance and the training that led me here.
For my first ever stage race, this was exactly what I was hoping it would be and more. Essentially summer camp for beer drinking running adults. Who could say no to that? I definitely want to do this race again in the future and get more into stage racing when training allows. Overall the course was beautiful and a lot of fun. There were lots of great stretches of mountains, single track, and even some good stretches of pavement where I could open up the legs and get the HR down some. It was a great mix and very well organized.