My goal for this summer was to get into trail running. My big goal is to run the Vermont 50 miler in September, but I wanted to get some trail race experience before then. The Bear Brook Trail marathon sounded perfect (and a little intimidating!). I was really sad when I went to sign up and found out it was full, but luckily I moved up ~9 places on the waitlist and got in. Even better, Kirstin got into the race the at the last minute, and we got to reunite again and have a wonderful running adventure together!

Since this was an early morning Saturday race, I didn’t get to do my usual pre-marathon routine of eating burritos and sleeping all day :) (had to make due with pre-marathon mac and cheese instead). I’m really happy Alon and I decided to camp instead of find a hotel, because the park was beautiful! As we drove through the ginormous forest to get to the campground, I was already getting super excited to run the next morning. After some much needed frozen choco tacos from the campstore, it was time for a short nap until 4:30am.

I slept surprisingly well in the tent and woke up ready to go. I could tell it would be a great morning for running, it was slightly chilly, the rain had stopped, and there were no encounters so far with any mean bugs. I scarfed down my power bars and gatorade and it was off to the race start! I registered, kissed Alon goodbye, and hung out waiting for my awesome running buddy Kirstin. We had a happy reunion and downed some much needed double caffeinated power gels before the race took off.

We started pretty far back, which is probably a good thing. I didn’t have any agenda for this race besides getting some needed trail experience and having fun, and was planning to take it easy. Still, I was a little impatient as we slowed to a walk many times in the first couple miles which were pretty narrow single track where it was pretty difficult to pass, at least to pass gracefully. From the very beginning the course was beautiful, nice dirt trails, often narrow but very runnable, that stretched forever. Basically my dream :). There were tons of friendly and chatty other runners. I had expected that we’d run alone for most of the race, given that it is a several hour long 100 person race, but there was almost never a time when we weren’t with a group of other people. And almost always, there was a conversation going.

We made it to aid station 1, which was actually about a quarter mile off the course! The race director commented that “I’m sure you’ll all be ok with a little extra mileage” :). I liked this short out and back because we could see where the other runners ahead of us and behind us were. After we checked in, we started to pick it up a little and pass some people, especially on the slightly uphills and as the course widened a bit. It seemed like we continued to pass people during the next couple legs of the course. It felt good to push it up the long hill leading up to aid station 3, where I refilled with some much needed (but not so good tasting…) Heed and oreos. Still feeling great. The stretch after the third aid station was a bit overgrown and we slowed to walking pace for some of it. Shortly after that we formed a nice pack with a couple other girls and two guys we talked to along the way, Myren and John.

This time of year, the woods are usually full of nasty deer flies. I had just encountered these guys last weekend in Long Island, where I made the mistake of wearing a tank top and came out of my 10 mile run full of fly bites on my shoulder blades. The nice race organizers were aware of this, and gave us these sticky deer fly patches to put on our hats. They are covered with a sticky glue on the outside, so the deer flies get stuck there and not on your skin. There weren’t really any flies out today, so my fly patch was still pretty sticky by mile the halfway point. A couple miles into this section, during a particularly muddy part, all the sudden a tree stole my hat off my head. I went to put it back on my head, and realized it had landed with the super sticky fly glue right on top of my ponytail! I tugged and tugged at the hat, but there was no way I was going to detach my hat from my ponytail… I yelled “Uh, guys, I have a situation back here!”. But my packmates were deep in conversation about the recent TARC 100 (which both John and I were pacers at, and the amazing Kirstin ran the thole thing!). So I stuffed hair+deer patch into my hat and carried on, sure that I was about to get a major hair cut after the race! (luckily in the end I only lost a few medium size chunks of hair to this disaster).

After the fourth aid station, we headed past one of the beautiful lakes and into the campground. I was hoping we’d get to see Alon, but we didn’t go close to our campsite. It was already almost mile 19 and I was feeling great. I planned to really try and pick it up once we hit 20. After a short detour after a wrong turn, we were back on the trails and on the home stretch.

It was here that all the sudden I started feeling pretty crappy. Maybe it was all the Heed that I chugged at the last aid station. Or not taking in enough salt. Or that it was starting to warm up as we approached 4 hours and got closer to midday. But soon after this point I got the most painful side stitch I can remember. I tried to run through it for a mile or two but eventually it was really painful to run, like every step was giving me a stabbing reminder in my side that something was unhappy. I was really bummed when this happened, because I was really excited about picking it up for the home stretch, my legs were feeling great. Kirstin was amazingly patient and walked with me for a bit :) even as we got passed by more and more other runners… At about mile 24, when I was thinking I’d have to walk the whole way back, one of our buddies (I can’t remember who, but thank you!) offered me a salt tablet. Seriously within 5 minutes I started feeling a million times better, and we started running again. I’ll surely be carrying those with me for future long runs, I learned my lesson!

After my watch hit 26.2 miles, I was sure we must be nearing the end. And we started to catch some of the people that had passed us while we were walking. Soon we passed someone saying “half a mile to go!” and then “a quarter mile!” and we actually even put in a little kick” I saw Alon standing at the finish line at the top of the hill. We finished around 5:15. But we were having so much fun that it totally didn’t feel like 5 hours of running. It was a really fun end to a really great race. I was actually sad it was over, the race was so beautiful and I was feeling good again and ready for more running!

We got some post-race pictures with our running buddies and with Alon. Alon made me walk around the parking lot with him to loosen out my legs. As good as I felt the last half a mile or so, after stopping I immediately had the familiar post-marathon urge to lay on the ground :). Still, I felt much better than after any of the road marathons I’ve done, and I was filled with happiness from completing my first trail marathon and the longest run I’ve ever done (my watch clocked in at 27.6 miles, so I guess technically I can call this my first ultra!). Thank you to all the volunteers and running buddies that made this so much fun, and thank you sooo much Kirstin for being an amazing (and patient!) running buddy. I look forward to many more adventures in the future!

It turned out to be a great rest of the weekend. Alon randomly ran into one of our friends at the campstore who was also staying for the weekend! We decided to stay and camp an extra night. We had a relaxing afternoon of lunch at Panera, working a bit, and me going back for a nap while Alon went riding for a bit. I love when I wake up from a post-marathon nap, and I can feel all the muscles in my body and am filled with happy exhaustion from just having done something amazing. Usually I wake up from those naps looking forward to a week of rest ahead, but this time I woke up thinking how excited I am for the next trail adventure (TARC 50K in 3 weeks, yay!). After dinner, we headed over to their campsite for some guitar serenading, some delicious s’mores, and good times under the stars.

As I rode the bus to lab on Monday morning, I had a big smile on my face. I just kept going back to the beautiful trails and wonderful people we ran with. I have been dreaming about becoming an “ultra runner” since I can remember, and this weekend was a great way to start fulfilling that dream. It is hard to describe the feeling these runs give me, but it is one of freedom and power and energy, that you can go forever and accomplish anything, and have a blast while doing it. Can’t wait til the next adventure! Happy running.

In case you want to check it out on Strava