Race Report: Labor Pains 12-Hour
I often find myself commenting on the paradox of age. As we grow up, we form very clear impressions of what it means to be an adult. Then we become adults, and find that we don’t feel anything like we thought we would. Well, perhaps this isn’t your story, but it certainly summarizes mine quite well. I don’t see this as a bad thing, of course. I’m excited by past, present, and future adventures, and I value greatly the playful spirit and sense of wanderlust that comes with running, hiking, and generally being curious about the world. I wouldn’t dream of changing it, and it was that spirit that led me to this race.
For the first time last year, I decided I would start running my age in miles on my birthday every year. In part this was motivated by a good friend who has done the same thing for the last few years, but more generally, it just seems like I really nice way to celebrate my birthday doing what I love. This year, I was lucky enough to discover the Labor Pains 12-Hour Race in nearby Reading, PA, which just happened to fall on September 4th, the day before my birthday. All of the reviews were positive and it seemed like a great way to take a short trip and enjoy the day with the beautiful epicurean and Looper happy to come along for the ride.
It was a relatively short drive up to Reading, and was made even shorter by the lack of traffic on Sunday morning. We packed some camping supplies so that the epicurean and Looper could set up shop and relax during the day, and watch the event unfold as I returned to the starting area after each 5 mile loop. We arrived in plenty of time for me to check in, pick up my bib and shirt, and for us to claim a spot near the finish area. The race is organized by Pretzel City Sports, and they have quite a bit of race organizing experience. I was impressed from the very beginning with how things looked, and could tell it was going to be an enjoyable day!
A record crowd of close to 300 people showed up to test themselves at various limits, and we all lined up for a few announcements before the 7:30AM start time. One of the neat things about a timed race like this is it allows everyone to set their own goals. That might mean running their first marathon or 50K, or pushing themselves even further. Regardless, the relatively short 5-mile loop meant you had a chance to see people repeatedly and you were rarely alone out on the course. This was a welcome treat throughout the day, and it made the miles fly by that much faster.
I knew going in that I wasn’t planning to push myself quite to 100%, but rather use this as a hard training run in preparation for Grindstone, and run at least my 37 miles in the process. I hadn’t read much about the course itself, other than it being mainly trails with a few road crossings. I foolishly assumed it would be relatively flat for some reason as well, and I was proven wrong on that front pretty quickly!
The course began with a sharp climb up a hill onto a service road, before dipping into the woods. The first half of the loop had significantly more gain than the second, and I was surprised so see that I had already climbed 400 ft by the time I reached the aid station around mile 2.5. The first half of the course was slightly more runable than the second, but in general, it wasn’t a terribly technical course. My standards have certainly changed over the past year, but the smattering of tree roots and rocks didn’t give me much cause for concern. The second half of the loop was much more runable and rolling, aside from two larger climbs almost immediately after the aid station.
Oh, I should also mention that I may have broken one of the bigger rules in running from the get go too. I decided this race would be a good time to test my new Altra Olympus 2.0s for the first time 🙂 I’ve worn new shoes for the first time at races in the past, and Altras seem to work really well for me so I wasn’t terribly concerned. I figured it would be the perfect way to put them through the paces and see if I wanted them to be my go-to shoe in a few weeks. The added cushion, better grip, and flexibility of this Olympus update did not disappoint! I avoided the first iteration of these shoes because they were just too stiff, but Altra completed a major overhaul before releasing the 2.0 and the result is a phenomenal long haul trail shoe.
If I had to venture a guess, I’d say that the comfort and cushion of my shoes probably contributed to me running a tad bit faster than I had anticipated. The weather was in the 50’s and humid at the start, but overall very comfortable, and the trails were in great shape. I was having a blast on the rolling hills and enjoying being a part of a great running community for the day, and the miles simply melted away. Every time I passed through the finish line to have my lap recorded and ran over to check in with the epicurean, I was feeling great and it felt like I had just left. I was making great time and feeling really comfortable on the trails, and it was a wonderful boost of confidence. It would seem that this most recent training block was paying off, despite all my complaining about the heat and humidity!
I monitored my nutrition throughout the day, and had no problem taking in a variety of food and drink, which meant I never felt on the verge of a bonk. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t consider pushing myself well past my birthday mile goal, and I felt like I could have kept running forever. I was most definitely in the zone! However, I dialed it in and did my best to remember the long goal and not get greedy in the moment. By the time I finished my 6th lap (30 miles), I had talked myself down off the ledge, and I committed to only running two more laps.
I’m pretty sure this decision brought me some much-needed relief, and it made the last two laps that much more fun. As an added bonus, the race started serving beer at the aid station at noon, and I happily enjoyed a nice cold IPA with the knowledge that I was nearing the end of my day. By this point, the sun was shining and it was beginning to get a bit warmer, which meant the epicurean and Looper were heating up without any shade to speak of, so my decision to cut myself off was certainly supported. I completed my 8th and final lap, pausing at the halfway point to enjoy a second IPA, and enjoyed the steep, rocky climb up to the finish area one final time. I walked over to the timing station to tap out, and they told me they’d leave my tab open just in case I decided to come back 🙂
I had 8 laps and 40 miles under my belt in a little over 7 hours, and I was feeling great. Last year, I probably would have felt somewhat guilty for not continuing, but I had accomplished what I wanted to accomplish, and I was making the smart choice to head home, relax, and recover. The timing for this race is perfect for my birthday run, and I may very well be back next year to tackle a different challenge. This year, though, it’s all about the long game…and that game begins on Friday at 6pm.