Thursday, September 23, 2010

Busse Woods 20 miler Race Report

It's very hard in the beginning to understand that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners. Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit.
--George Sheehan

(I borrowed this quote from a great running blog, but I can't remember which one! So thanks to the runner who posted this, it's a good one.)

I've been dreading writing this race report. Thus it's late. Last Saturday, I ran the Busse Woods 20 miler. This was less a race and more a catered training run for those preparing for fall marathons. By "catered" I mean there were volunteer-staffed water stops just like in races. There were also pacers. For those unfamiliar, pacers are people who lead a group of runners who want to run at a certain pace. I think these folks are amazing. They are so in tune with their bodies that they are able to run near the exact pace they set out to run for miles and miles. Of course, they have Garmins and other GPS devices to help them, but those are more of a back-up: you can't run a certain pace by staring at a watch all the time- it just doesn't work. So these pacers amaze me. I would love to be one someday. But I'm actually TERRIBLE at pacing myself so can't be a pacer any time in the near future.

These pacers were the reason I wanted to do this run. Whenever I try to run "race pace" I end up going way, way too fast then burning out and running way, way too slow. I've never run with a pace group before (I'm more of a solo or with 1 or 2 friends runner), so I thought this would be a good dress rehearsal for Chicago because I plan to run with the 4:15 pace group.

Unfortunately, there was no 9:45 min/mile pace group so I had to choose between 10:00 min miles or 9:30 minute miles. Since I ran a half at 9:10 pace a few months ago, I thought the 9:30 group wasn't too crazy of an idea. The first few miles were great! The course was absolutely beautiful, all within Busse Woods in Elk Grove. We did a couple loops and a couple out and backs, all while breathing fresh air, running through the forest, seeing the occasional deer and even the occasional elk! (More about the elk later.) Wonderful! It was nice to vary from my usual Lakefront Path in Chicago.

The first 3 miles were great. I began to feel comfortable running so close to other people, I was not short of breath, I thought maybe I could pull off the 9:30 pace. I even started having fantasies about running the marathon at this pace, trying to calculate what time I'd end with if I did (about 4 hours and 10 minutes if you are interested). Well, that was premature. By mile 6 I was really feeling it. I kept telling myself that it was because we just gone through an uphill section, but I wasn't fooling myself. Part of the problem was the water stops. I can't drink out of a cup while running. I just can't. So I would grab a beverage, walk while I drank only for a few seconds, but long enough that I had to do some fast running to get back to the group. I think those mini-sprints interjected in a pace that is probably too fast for me for a 20 miler anyway was a recipe for disaster.

I told myself to just toughen up. When it comes to running, my mind is by far the weakest part of my body. I haven't had a running injury since the very first year I started running (knock on wood, I know I'm tempting fate by writing that), I don't get particularly sore while I run (until after mile 18 or so), my cardiovascular health is not really a limiting factor, I have decent core strength, I'm tall and thin which is supposed to help, right? But I'm mentally soft and lazy.

And, sadly, my inner loser came to the forefront and sometime during mile 8 I broke from the group and decided to run a bit slower. My logic was that I still had 12 miles to get through and it would be better to complete 1 last long run before the taper rather than crash and burn and not get the run done. Excuses, I know. And I'm disappointed in myself.

The next 4 miles were brutal. I continually questioned whether I should just bag the run and go back home (I happened to be relatively close to the start point where my car was parked). I did some walking. I didn't even walk fast to maximize time, I just walked. I would convince myself to run a mile, then I would walk. Pitiful, really pitiful.

Sounds great so far, huh?

I have never so seriously considered stopping a long run for no good (physical) reason before. So, in a glass is half full sort of way, I am happy with myself for pulling myself out of my self-doubting cave and finishing the run. I have to remind myself that running 20 miles is an accomplishment every single time I do it, no matter the pace, no matter how crappy I feel. So I decided to run slow, slow, slow and just not stop (except at water stops!).

Miles 13-16 were tolerable. The sky started looking very threatening which was a nice distraction and I started looking forward to the imminent rain. Running in the rain is fun as long as it is warm enough out and it was. At mile 16 it started raining, actually pouring. An honest to god downpour and it was GREAT! It was such a nice distraction, I really started to enjoy the run. If I want to be optimistic again I would note that it's impressive that I can enjoy running after running 16 miles. The first 16 miles, not so fun. The rest of the run--> AWESOME!

Around mile 17 the thunder got louder and the lightening got closer. Really close. That was no big deal when I was deep in the woods, but when I ran into a clearing and the lightening hit about 50 feet from me, I got a little freaked out. So at mile 18.5, I had to go to a rain shelter, I really just didn't feel safe. I was bummed because I was doing so great, but I really didn't want to get hit by lightening. Maybe I was being ridiculous but that lightening was right there. I saw the grass smoke after the lightening hit. No can do.

So I stopped for about 5 minutes to let it pass. It continued to downpour, thunder and lightening but I could tell the front was moving past us so I sprinted for the last 1.5 miles. I thought I was sprinting, anyway. Turned out I was just running 9:25 pace. Whatever! That's not bad for the last 1.5 miles of a 20 mile run (for me, a slow poke runner).

Oh, and the elk! At mile 10.5 and 19.5, there were elk! And they were bugling! I've been to Yellowstone multiple times as well as the Tetons, the Rocky Mountains, etc but have never heard them bugling! So that was very cool. If you want to hear an elk bugle, click here.

Overall, the race was a bit of a downer, but it ended on a good note. My pace ended up being 10:01 min/mile, 17 s too slow per mile. But, as my last bit of optimism, one could argue that after multiple weeks of hard training and long runs 10:00 min miles is not bad and that maybe after tapering and resting up, 9:44 is not out of reach? I really hope that is optimism and not just excuses!

The after "race" party was great. Hot dogs, chips, water, bananas. Yummy! Then off to home and shower before my parents arrived for our bike ride and dinner!


  1. I think this was an EXCELLENT race report. You did great!! (And I really really love the quote at the beginning, I'm going to borrow it). I wish I could find a scheduled 20 miler. I still have not done anything longer than 17 miles.

  2. I wish we had this sort of race/training run set up around here. How nice to have support for what's in essence a training run!! But stupid me, I'd legit try to race it, defeating the purpose. That's a bummer that the beginner part was less than desirable, but at least you had a strong finish!!

  3. I think you did great, love how they organized to race for those training. Very cool about the Elk!