I signed up for this race specifically because it was within reasonable driving distance, and on my birthday- this was the 3rd year in a row I raced an ultra on my birthday, and I think it brings me luck. This year was no exception- I came away with a new PR by about 20 minutes! My husband decided to race as well, making this his 4th ultra. Although his day didn't go so well, he did persevere through Achilles and stomach issues to finish with a run through the finish!
We drove about 3 1/2 hours on Saturday afternoon to get to Virginia Beach. The next morning we headed out bright and early for the race, which was on a nearby golf course. It was cold and windy before sunrise, but I knew it would warm up quickly once the sun came out and we started running. The course was USATF certified and on the paved golf cart paths- one short out-and-back, then 13 loops of about 2.3 miles each. There was a 100K option as well, which I considered switching to, as I felt like I was "wussing out" by doing the shorter distance. But with Boston Marathon coming up a nice, fast 50K seemed like better training. Plus, this would have me running 31 miles on my 31st birthday!
I really wanted to PR, but I hadn't done much speed work lately so I wasn't sure how fast I could go. I think with the right training I could do a sub-4 50K, but I knew I probably wasn't up for that at the time. I thought I could get under 4:15 though. Basically, my plan was just to go out fast and settle into a sustainable pace, whatever that might be on the day.
I probably started out too fast- 1st mile was 7:10- but I settled into the 7:20-7:30 range and felt surprisingly good! For a little while I even had the audacity to think I might get that sub-4 after all... I kept under 7:30s through the halfway point, then began to slow down a little as the miles ticked by. I knew I would still likely PR even if the sub-4 wasn't happening, so I just tried to hold on as my pace dropped into the 7:40s. That worked okay through my marathon split, but I really had trouble in the last 5 miles or so, barely keeping under an 8:30 pace. The weather was gorgeous, around high 50s, but there was a bit of a headwind which certainly didn't help my tired legs!
Around the 20 mile mark a girl zipped by me and I briefly tried to keep up, but she was at around a 7:15 pace and I knew I would burn myself out too early attempting that! I tried to just ignore it and focus on my own race, knowing I still had to be in the top 3. I chose to travel light without carrying anything, but just fueled with a gel every other lap, and drank a cup of water or gatorade on the alternate laps. I tried to pick up the pace on the last lap, especially the final mile, but I had a hard time getting good turnover with my fatigued legs- that was the lack of training really catching up with me! But I pushed as well as I could through the finish line, retching a little from my final "sprint". I clocked in with a new PR of 4:08:07, and was so glad to be done! I found out the speedy girl had beat me with an awesome 4:01 finish, but I was still 2nd lady and 3rd overall :)
I had passed my husband walking a few times, and he told me his Achilles was bothering him, but he seemed in good spirits. However, the first time I saw him after I finished, he told me he really hurting, and still had two more laps to go. I cheered him on and then decided to volunteer at the aid station, passing out water, soda, and gatorade. It took my husband a long time to finish the next lap, and when I saw him he said he had been vomiting and wanted to stop. I convinced him to keep on walking for one more lap- I knew in his place I would hate to DNF with less than 2.5 miles to go! He did end up finishing, in just under 6 hours, and managed to run in the last bit as well! I was super proud of him, as sometimes just finishing a rough race is harder than PRing on a good day.
All in all, it was a great birthday! I got a beautiful day, ran a big PR and placed for my gender and overall. I met some nice new people and got a chance to volunteer for a couple of hours, which I really enjoyed. Unfortunately, the weather since then hasn't been anywhere near as good, but I've really buckled down with my training lately, so I'm feeling good about my chances at Boston in a couple months!