by Danielle Triffitt
I may not have talked much about today’s Gator Trail 50k, but I sure have been thinking a lot about it over the past few months. After last May’s DNF at Pineland, I really really wanted to get the 50k monkey off my back, so to speak, and when Ryan suggested the Gator Trail many months ago, it seemed like a great plan. A chance for redemption. A bit of a vacation. A chance to visit my parents and get a race in. What’s not to love? Of course, then reality hit, and I didn’t quite get in as many long runs as I had hoped for this winter, and certainly didn’t do as much training as Ryan did over the past few months. But I felt strong, and I began to harbor hope for not only a finish, but a decent finish. In my mind, and said out loud to only a few, my “reach” goal was 4:30, with 9:30 pace being my “tough, but possible and if so, it would be awesome” goal, and just plain finishing without collapsing being my main goal. I’m happy to say I managed to finish in 4:47:11, and although the Garmin measured only 30.2, I’m calling it 50k which that means I ran 9:15ish pace. Woohoo! I also managed to come in 2nd for the women, which was an added bonus. Then again, the total finisher pool was likely only in the 30s and there might have been only 7 or 8 women out there, but I’ll take it! 🙂 Redemption is sweet. Now if I could only walk normally, all would be good 🙂
Speaking of sweet, Ryan WON.THE.WHOLE.THING! 1st overall in a blistering time of 3:56:29. Awesome work, Snowman! You rock!! I’m so happy for you. You earned it.
The day started out with us leaving the house at 6am, in the pitch black, and heading out on some winding, middle of nowhere roads to reach Lake Waccamaw State Park. We saw one deer and one coyote on the drive, and luckily, both bounded away from the car off the road instead of into the car. Phew. I was my typical race morning nervous mess disaster with my stomach in knots the whole drive. I felt better after we made a pit stop at a random convenience store along the way.
We arrived in plenty of time before the 8am start, getting our numbers, checking out the competition and setting up our own personal aid station by the car. Runners milled around the parking lot, coming and going, and finally it was time to line up. The thing was that there was really no starting line. The race director gave us some directions, said “Oh, and don’t litter” and then said “OK, ready, set, go.” We were all sort of spread out in the parking lot, so everyone just started their watches where they stood and took off. It was pretty funny. Ryan sped to the front, and I called out “Hope you know where you’re going, Ryan!” That got a good laugh from the crowd as we ran down the drive and took the first turn into the pine forest.
The run consisted of five 10k loops. The loop started and ended on pavement in the Visitor’s Center/parking area, and took us on most of the trails through the park. It was very flat. The first stretch was through the pine forest which had had a very recent controlled burn. A few ashes still smoldered along the edge of the trail. The trail through most of this stretch was loose sand, and the air smelled of smoke. Then another short pavement stretch and further into the park, on yet another wide sandy trail. Here we passed the primitive camp area, where a big group of Boy Scouts had set up camp. A few runners around me joked about just wanting to go curl up by the fire instead of continuing the run. Sounded pretty good to me! But alas, on we ran. From there, we ran up to the lake, turned left and headed out onto a 0.6 mile spur, at the end of which was a board with our names and where we were to stick a sticker on each lap. Gotta keep us honest! This was the only chance to get a look at who was around you as you went out and back. And it was here, on the first lap, that I had my one and only glimpse of Ryan for the rest of the run.
After completing the out-and-back spur, the trail meandered along the edge of the lake, twisting and turning through the trees, the trail pine and leaf covered, with a bit of sand and lots of roots to grab at your feet. It was actually really pretty through here, and was probably my favorite stretch of trail, although I’d say it was also the hardest, or at least the most technical. The loop finished with a long stretch on a wide boardwalk that led from the Visitor’s Center out to the lake and a return to the parking area.
The first loop went quickly, and I was surrounded by people the whole way, but as we went back through the start/finish area, things thinned out a bit. However, I did end up running part of lap #2 with a Marine who had been stationed for a number of years in Brunswick. What are the chances of that?! We had fun chatting, but he left me in the dust at the turn-around point, and I was on my own. I did leap-frog back and forth with a few guys as the rest of the loops went by, and I kept noticing on the out-and-back stretch that the lead woman was getting further and further ahead, but still, through the end of lap #3, I still felt strong and comfortable.
Admittedly, as I started out on lap #4, with 18 miles on my legs, the sand started to be a bigger deal and the little ups and downs started to feel bigger. But by now, I knew what was ahead of me, and I broke the loop up into segments, chugging along gamely as best I could. My average pace definitely slowed from the start of loop 1 to the start of loop 4, but I think I did an OK job of keeping things pretty even throughout, with most of the slow down occurring because of my pee breaks, and the stops at the start/finish to get my sticker and at the out-and-back turn around on each lap. I also walked through the start/finish drinking water and eating a few chips at the start of lap #4 and #5. Anyway, I won’t pick at hairs here, because, really, it was a great run and I’m very happy with it. I am extra happy that in the last few miles of lap #5, when I was tired and so wanting to be done, I managed to talk myself into (I really did talk to myself out there, which is kinda scary, but it did work) picking up the pace from the turn-around point back to the finish, and also managed to pass 3 people in that stretch. I gave it all I had, and was super happy to make the final turn off the boardwalk onto the park drive. There Ryan, and my parents and Sam, were cheering me on as I made my way around the lot to the finish line. Sam might have been a bit scared of crazy Mama, racing by her, gritting her teeth between smiles and working hard for a finishing kick, though 🙂
Anyway, like I said, I am super happy with how the race went, and it really was a fun run. It was well marked, thoughtfully directed, and really highlighted this neat little park on the shores of one big honkin’ lake. The race director was great, the volunteers friendly, and it had a nice, low-key but serious feel with some friendly competition. Bad music blared from the speakers in the start/finish area, kids played in the grass, almost everyone had drawling southern accents, and both Ryan and I received a fun gator picture frame award for our efforts. We even passed a neat (snapping?) turtle nest in the sand around 2 miles into each loop, the ping-pong-esque eggs sitting neatly stacked in the sand. No gators though 🙂
Stats according to my Garmin ~
Total time: 4:47:10
Total distance: 30.2 (but I’m calling it 50k!!!)
Total elevation gain/loss: 77 feet.
Results – 9/26; 2/6 women. A small field, yes, but needless to say, both Ryan and I were very proud to don our Trail Monster singlets at the race today!
And now, I’m off to eat more ice cream. Wish me luck standing up from the computer!! 🙂