We had about 70 runners at the first annual Icy 8 Hour trail run. It is called "Icy" because it is held in February, and because it was 26 degrees when we started. The course allows for runners to choose either a 4.7 or 8 miles loop, and you can combine loops at any time during the run. The course was rolling hills, fast, and a bit bumpy because of horse tracks. The only thing is that only completed laps count, thus you get no credit for partial laps. This would become a little tricky later in the day when I tried to figure how to maximize my mileage.
Upon starting I recognized a couple fast runners, and figured I could possibly finish well, if I played it smart. Francesca Conte and Russell Gill, both team Montrail runners added some fun to the mix, and my bud Justin Faul who is consistently a strong runner also seemed like a challenger. Mike Huff, a US Marine and fellow VHTRC member, had recently been running very well. Speedsters Scott Buttz and Thad Meyer were also key players. I also figured there would be a few sleepers who would have good races.
My game plan was to run only 4.7 mile loops. I had figured on a good day I could get in 11 loops for 51.7 miles. Pacing was good early on. I chatted it up a bit with a few friends on the first loop, which we ran at an easy effort. I ran right through the aid point at the end of the first loop which created a little separation early. I made sure to look as fresh as possible when I passed other speedy runners in hopes of gaining a little mental edge on them. Even if my overall pace was a 9 minute mile, I wanted them to think I was dropping sub 8's all day. I hit my marathon split at 3:45, and my 50k split in 4:39. I was not really focused on any other runners, because it was impossible to tell how far everyone had run until the end. Several folks were running really fast in the later hours of the race, but I found out they were on relay teams. Frannie Conte looked like the biggest contender since she was always flying when she passed me. It turned out that she stopped at 33.6 miles. Other than Frannie, there were a handful of other folks that still looked really strong.
At about mile 32, I started to slow down a lot, eventually dropping to a 10 minute mile. I knew I wanted to run at least 50 miles, so with two hours left I needed to redo my strategy. I had run 38.6 miles in six hours, so I chose to run one 8 mile loop and one 4.7 mile loop to bring my total to 50.3. I went out on the eight mile loop fast, and was back to running 8 minute miles, but bonked hard towards the end and finished the loop in 70 minutes. I now had fifty two minutes to complete my final 4.7 mile loop. At this time of the day the temperatures had risen to the upper sixties and was feeling quite warm. The ground which was frozen in the morning had become very muddy and slippery. Even with the slushy footing I made a final push to complete my last loop in 49 minutes. Total mileage was 50.3, and my 50 mile split was around 7:53.
A very personal highlight for me was having my parents at the race. They were able to see me come running through the check point after having run 45.6 miles, and then see me again when I finished. It was the first race that they got to see me actively running, and first race they saw me finish. At the awards presentation there were over 30 runners who completed a 50k or more. That is an incredible number, with a few first timers as well. The race director then gave out the awards for 3rd and 2nd place, both had tied for 44.6 miles, but the 2nd place went to the runner that completed it faster. I knew that my 50.3 miles had been good enough for first. The truth is, I had actually already won the race before I even went out on my last loop. Regardless, my parents got to see my first race, and had a chance to see my first ever 1st place finish. Pretty sweet and satisfying! In the end I reminded myself that much faster runners could have completed 55-60 miles, but on any given day who knows who will show up? I was just blessed that on this day, I was able to run just a little bit further. I also think that strategy was almost as important as speed in events like this.
On the whole, I recommend this race series. You get a nice technical shirt, good food, chip timing, and a pretty location at Lake Anna State park. I may have to hit up the 12 hour this fall, but think I will hold off on the 24 hour.