This was my second year doing the Baker Trail Ultrachallenge 50 miler. The Baker is a different race from most ultras in that you have to do the race three times in order to get the whole medal. The Baker Trail is almost 150 miles long so each year the race is held on a different 50 mile section. Last year I ran the North section and got my first piece of the medal. This year I got to experience the Central section.
The Baker medal once completed.
The week before the race I only ran two miles. I really wanted to run more but I couldn’t seem to do anything but work. I ended up putting in 49 hours in the 4 days leading up to the race. Friday I ditched work and got a haircut instead and then came home to pack and head up to the packet pick up. This year the packets were being picked up at a private farm in Smicksburg, PA and was also where runners would finish the race. I decided to sleep in my Jeep at the farm to make race day morning easier.
New haircut to give me a mental boost for race day!
When I arrived at packet pick up I found that the family who owns the farm had made spaghetti and salad for everyone. To top it off they also had a refrigerator full of beer! I got my bib, chip, and shirt and took them to my Jeep. Once there I organized everything for race day and then headed back inside the farm house to eat and socialize. I sat on the deck with a cold brew and a full plate and talked to quite a few runners, both new and old friends. Soon enough it was getting dark and time to get some shut eye. I laid down the back seat of my Jeep and crammed a bag in the gap between the seat and the rear floor before rolling out my sleeping bag. I wasn’t able to stretch out completely but I wasn’t too uncomfortable either. I slept rather well for the conditions.
Representing Team Aquaphor!
In the morning my alarm went off at 4:30am. I quickly changed into my running gear and filled my handheld. I wore a camisole, shorts, gaiters and a pair of well worn road shoes. I carried nothing but water in a small handheld. I hoped travelling light would work in my favor on a hot day. I knew that this section is mostly rolling and winding country roads (gravel, dirt, and broken asphalt), as well as farm fields, Jeep roads, and about 8-10 miles of actual singletrack, technical trail. It would be relentless sun for the most part with no shade and hot asphalt under foot. A total 7, 318 feet of ascent and 7,056 feet of descent would add to the fun.
Elevation profile for the Cental section
A bus arrived at 6:00am to take us to the starting line. I hit the port-o-potty and then climbed aboard. The ride took twice as long as it was supposed to and I dozed on and off while the bus navigated the dusty country roads. By the time we reached the starting line it was almost 7am (start time was supposed to be 6:30am) and runners were nervously speculating about the toll the late start would take later as temperatures rose. I was just happy I wouldn’t need a headlamp since I hadn’t packed one.
The race director reminded us about following the yellow blazes and being safe on the roads. Then we were off! I purposely went out at the back of the pack. I wanted to go slowly enough to feel good and finish strong but still PR. I set a goal of running 13-14 minute mile average pace for the first half. A group of four runners, including me, settled in for the slow pace. The rest of the runners (roughly 100 this year – results aren’t up yet) took off like it was a marathon or sprint instead of an ultra. I predicted that we’d see a high drop rate this year with the high number of new runners plus the heat. I learned that I was running with Steve, Michael, and Mad Dog. We continued as a group through the first three aid stations (mile 15) and added three more runners along the way.
After aid station 3 I took off a little and left the group. I knew I was almost 1/3 done and I thought it was time to start picking off more runners. Over the next few sections I picked off probably 5-10 runners, usually in groups of 2 or 3. I told myself I could start listening to music at the halfway point (mile 25.1) to motivate myself to get there. As I headed up the last large hill to the mid-way aid station I caught sight of a butterfly. I took my eyes off the trail just long enough to catch my toe on a rock and land hard on my left side. I looked down to find my knee bleeding profusely. I almost panicked but then I thought of all the stories I’ve heard of runners finishing despite much worse. I took a deep breath and pulled my eyes away from the gore. Then I got to my feet, dusted off and set off for the aid station.
My knee, looking better after being cleaned up.
At the halfway aid station the volunteers offered to let me use the sponge to clean up my knee. Knowing that there were people behind me who might want to use that sponge, I declined. I found a paper towel and wet it and used it to wipe away the worst of the blood and dirt. After that I went through the routine I used at every aid station in this race. I filled my water bottle, drank one cup of Gatorade or soda, and then ate a quarter PB&J or handful of trail mix. I never took a single GU or S!cap or anything except ‘real’ food. I also made sure to thank every volunteer at every single aid station. I checked my Garmin and saw that I was at exactly 6 hours. I made up my mind right then to aim for a negative split and a sub-12 finish.
After I left that aid station I pulled out my headphones and started rolling along to the music. It carried me pretty well and I started passing more runners. At one point I passed 7 or 8 within a mile or so. I was still feeling strong and happy and the miles were ticking off easily. I was having a blast moo-ing back at the cows along the way, waving to the Amish folks and just enjoying the sun and the breeze. Around mile 35 or so I caught a man named James who recognized me from this blog! (Hi James!) We leap frogged for awhile until I was finally able to pass for good. I think my awful singing probably kept him from catching me again!
By mile 40 I was starting to feel a little bit worn. A rock had made its way into my shoe and was digging into the side of my big toe. I kept wiggling my toe in hopes it would move somewhere less annoying but it never did. I was afraid I would lose too much time if I stopped to remove it plus I wasn’t sure my shoe would go back on my swollen foot. I chose to ignore the pain and run with the sole purpose of getting sub-12 hours. I continued to play my game of choosing a ‘victim’ and passing them and then putting a large gap between that runner and myself before slowing again. It helped keep me going and kept me mentally strong. I never passed a runner that I didn’t keep behind me for the rest of the way!
Miles 40-45 or so I ran with a friend of mine named Mick. He kept me in good spirits and kept pushing me. He took off after a bit and ran ahead. I tried to hold on to him but I know he’s a stronger runner than I am still so I let him go when I got to the last aid station, approximately 4 miles from the finish. I went through my routine of refilling my water bottle, drinking some Gatorade and then eating a handful of chips. I took off down the road in the hopes of still finishing in 11 hours and 50-some minutes.
It didn’t take long for me to realize there was very little chance of that happening. The last section is rolling ups and downs along gravel roads and some country highway. I was shuffle-jogging up the hills and then running full tilt on the downs but the runnable sections were getting fewer and farther between. The downs didn’t seem to match the ups and the pace on the ups kept getting slower and slower. I pushed and pushed but when I realized I would need to do better than 10 minutes per mile for the last 2 miles I knew it was over. I had a vague hope that maybe the time on my Garmin was off from the timing clock and I would still barely make it but I knew in my heart it was futile. I set a new goal of finishing in 12:0x. I figured it would still be a huge PR and something to be very proud of.
The last mile is a long stretch of rolling highway and it seemed like it would never end. Runners who had finished long before me were driving out and waving and cheering which helped but I wanted to be done more than anything at that point. I finally saw the farm as I crested a hill. All I had to do was turn down the driveway and sprint it in! Right?! To my intense dismay I saw yellow arrows pointing not to the driveway but up a steep hill of furrowed farmland. I wasn’t sure my ankles and knees would take a trip over a gopher hole so it was slow going. I finally crested the hill and saw I had to run down to a tractor lane, make a sharp left and then follow it to the finish. I picked my way through the old furrows and down to the tractor lane. I hit the tractor lane at 12:04 by my Garmin. I set out at the fastest run I could manage and crossed the line!
The race director told me my official time was 12:05:59! I made my B goal! Sub-12 will have to wait for next year I guess but it’s still a huge improvement over Umstead in March and an even bigger PR over my time on the North section last year. I collected my medal, got a high five from one of the little boys running around the farm, and then headed for the food. As I enjoyed my pulled pork sandwich, cheeseburger and potato salad I relished knowing that I have trained really hard the last 6 months and it shows. I talked with a lot of runners who finished much faster than me but instead of feeling discouraged, I felt like I could get there someday! After I ate one of the volunteers patched up my knee (they had no peroxide so we used hand sanitizer – OUCH!) and I headed home. Now I just wait for official results so I can see how many runners I actually passed and where I placed. 🙂
I can’t wait to see what next year holds!