Free State Trail Run: 40 Mile Recap #1
Now that I am relatively fully recovered, I can sit down and share a bit about what turned out to be the most satisfying race I’ve ever run! Just to recap- this past Saturday, I ran the Free States Trail Run 40-miler at Clinton Lake in Lawrence, KS. This was my second ultra-marathon and the longest run yet for me. I’ve been training since January for this race, racking up more mileage than ever before, and I felt comfortable and ready to go when Saturday morning rolled around.
I made the journey to Lawrence with two wonderful friends, and we departed on Friday afternoon. We picked up our packets at a great running store in downtown Lawrence. I, of course, got sucked into doing a bit of shopping and ended up buying a pair of compression sleeves, which proved to be quite useful on Sunday! As is the case with most running-related vacations, the secondary motive is always the opportunity to try new restaurants. With that in mind, we went out to dinner at the Free States Brewery, which had a fantastic selection of in-house micro brews. The Oatmeal Stout was quite delicious!
As always, the morning came way too early, and we were out the door by 6AM to head to Clinton Lake. Although it was a bit chilly at start time, a pair of arm warmers took the edge off, and it ended up being a beautiful day for a run. This was a small race, with probably around 400 total runners (100K, 40-mile, marathon, 1/2 marathon) and the 100K and 40-mile races began promptly at 7AM. Having not run the trails around Clinton Lake before, I was certainly a bit nervous, but the adrenaline was pumping fiercely and I quickly settled into a groove. The race began with a steep descent and a hard right, and at that point, I could already tell that this would be a more technical run than I had ever attempted.
In terms of difficulty, Clinton Lake did not disappoint! The entire route was litered with rocks, tree roots, branches, and stumps, which meant that looking more than 3 feet in front of you was just plain foolish. In total, the route consisted of two 20-mile out-and-back loops, which made the aid stations easier to position. I ended up running the first 13 miles or so with a group of guys who were all veterans of the race and the trails in the area, which ended up being a great intro for me! I was equally surprised and elated by just how kind and supportive they were (they were running the 100K race, by the way), and continued to offer suggestions and share stories about other races while we ran. The result was about two and a half hours of running that flew by without any concept of time. We eventually became separated, but those first miles set the pace for a great race. After the first 20-mile loop, I was feeling strong and energetic, despite the intensity of the trails and the distance already covered. I finished the first loop in under 4 hours, which proved to be quite an accomplishment considering the difficulty of the course.
After restocking on nutrition and reapplying sunscreen and bug spray, I headed back out, feeling confident and soaking in the energy and freedom of the environment. I didn’t bother wearing my Garmin for this race since the battery wouldn’t have lasted the whole race anyway, and I didn’t miss it in the least. I felt completely free and engaged in the run and lost all concept of time along the way. The second loop was certainly more difficult, and the second 10 miles of the loop, which were even more difficult than the first, certainly dragged on for a bit, but I never felt any pressure to move any faster than my body would allow.
The course was very well supported, and the volunteers at each of the aid stations were absolutely fabulous! When I finally made the turn to head up the final hill before the finish line, by heart was racing with excitement, and as I turned to sprint through the finish, my friends cheering me on, I was surprised and delighted by how much energy I had! I was all smiles at the end, and felt far more chatty and normal than I probably should have after running 40 miles. I filled up on water and snacks, and my legs still felt fresh. Strangely, I felt better than after many of the marathons I have run, which was a shock to me, but one I was grateful for in the end.
All-in-all, this entire experience has been one I’ll never forget, and the race is one I’ll certainly return to in the future. I’m so thankful for such wonderful, supportive friends and an incredibly supportive and caring partner- there is no question that I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish this without them!
So, I now have a 40-mile PR (8:21). Later on in the weekend, I was thinking about beginning to cycle more now that my ultra training is completed, and it occurred to me that I’ve now run further at one time than I have cycled! It won’t last long, but it’s hilarious none-the-less!
More thoughts on the race to come- it’s worth a 2nd post!