16 December 2013

Race Report: 2013 Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run

I have a history with this race. I first ran PMETR in 2009, finishing in 263rd place overall. I've improved over the years, even winning my AG last year while finishing 5th overall female, and the goal of winning the women's overall race began to creep into my mind. But, being a multi-sport athlete, winning single-sport events is usually reserved for the "real" runners or the "real" bikers. Off-road mutts like me specialize in being sorta-good at several things, and it's usually only at adventure races that I find myself in the hunt for the podium. But the race conditions for the 2013 edition of PMETR were a perfect storm for my skill set. Literally. The night before the race, the St. Louis area got dumped on, first with rain and then 4-10 inches of snow. Pere Marquette got about 8" of the sticky white stuff and that made the drive up to the race very challenging.
The drive up to Pere Marquette State Park.
Photo by SuperKate!
Fortunately, I left St. Louis with plenty of time to spare and with two awesome race buddies, Irwin and Megan. We all stayed calm while the snow drifts threatened to sling my little car right off the road! We finally parked at the lodge about 8:45am, still with plenty of time to get our bibs and change clothes and I even squeezed in a warm-up jog in my new screw shoes. I saw my orienteering friend Eric near the start line and we compared footwear notes and then pretty soon it was time to line up. I was seeded in Wave 3 (actually the fourth wave to start, there is a Wave 0) with a bunch of speedy women. I was super excited to be toeing the line with them, including the girl that has out-sprinted me at the finish line the past TWO YEARS IN A ROW...Katie S. It didn't bug me so much then because she was in a different age group, but this year we were both in F25-29 so I knew I had to run hard. Also I knew Megan has been rocking her training lately and was in a later wave - pressure was on!
Start! Photo by Fleet Feet STL.
The starter counts us down and we are off! I am completely content to let everyone else in my wave lead out and pack down the snowy trail for me, so I just casually jog off the line and am pretty much the last of the group to hit the singletrack. The pace feels easy. Really easy. But we have a big nasty climb coming up so just jog along and wait for it to get hard. Except...it doesn't. About a third of the way up the first hill, I'm still in the back of the conga line with my legs feeling amazing. I get scared that the lead women are going to fly off the front of our pack and I won't see them again, so I start passing people. It takes extra energy to run on the side of the packed-in singletrack, and I'm scared of burning too many matches. But, I know I have to take the chance now to stay in contact with the leaders.
Debbie leading into the first aid station.
Photo by Joanne Fricke.
About two thirds of the way up the first climb, I catch up with PMETR legend Debbie K. She's won Master's and Overall titles here MULTIPLE times, so I'm honored to sit in and run her pace up the rest of the hill. We chat a little bit and almost immediately she asks how old I am, and I get her hint, replying "I'm 29...NOT Master's!" She also tells me that she doesn't think there are any more women up ahead. Sweet! Debbie is awesome at running uphill and asking guys to move out of our way. She blazes the trail and the whole time I am thinking the effort is perfect - hard but not crazy. And, I notice her shoes are slipping here and there on the packed snow. Mine are rock solid, so it gives me a confidence boost that I am saving energy. There are a few small downhills at the top of the first climb, and I run those with her too, to try and plan my next move.
Photo by Robin Rongey.
The course route makes its first big descent about 1.5 miles in, and it's here that I try to break away from Debbie. I love running downhill, and I know it's my strength. So I just let gravity do its thing and I fly down the soft pillowy trail. Descending is just a dream - the trail is packed in hard enough to be predictable footing, my screw shoes are giving me great traction, and the surrounding unpacked snow lessens the chance of a injury if I did crash. At the bottom of the first big descent, I take a quick peek backwards and don't see anyone. Awesome. Then I focus on running the second quarter really strong - there aren't any huge ups or downs in this part of the course but plenty of small little rollers that require a lot of mental focus. I roll through the second aid station to cheers of "First lady!" and that gives me a huge boost - this is really happening, I'm leading at PMETR! But my thoughts drift back to Megan in a chasing wave and know that I have to keep running hard.
Photo by Robin Rongey.
The last half of the course seems to take forever. Last year, the mile posts flew by and I was done before I knew what even happened. This year, it seems that I've run for hours and am still only on Mile 4. I'm sure it's the stress of being chased, so I try to think of other things. I cycle through a lot of mental imagery, most of it being adventure race-related since the World Champs just concluded in Costa Rica. Teams went through some incredible challenges and I was so impressed with the athleticism and mental strength they showed. There is one picture that sticks in my head, it's of Mimi Guillot, she is the girl on World Champion Team Thule. Teams had to carry their whitewater raft for the last 500m or so of the 800km race, and the task nearly broke the exhausted Team Thule. A photographer got a photo of Mimi carrying the raft, she is in tears but the look of determination is so clear on her face...that's what I tried to channel for a mere 4 miles of running. I can't even bear to post the picture here because 7.8 miles of trail running doesn't even stack up to 800km of adventure racing. So go see for yourself.

About this time I've gotten to the base of the second big climb, and there are 3-4 guys up ahead. I am really excited about this because climbing is not my strength so I plan to use the guys as motivation to keep my pace high. We start going up, and...same thing as the first climb. Their pace is not as fast as my legs want to go. This is completely new territory for me, but I'm going to just roll with it, so I pass the guys in the soft snow and continue climbing. Then there is a big descent where I see a photographer so I quickly wipe the snot off my face and try to look fast. Ha! As I'm running by him I ask if there's anyone behind me...he answers "Nope!". Then the course brings runners across a road very close to the lodge where a big crowd always gathers, it's about Mile 6 (1.8 miles to go). As I approach the road crossing, I get a big cheer, "It's Emily!" and, "First girl!" This encouragement helps me so much - now I'm super inspired to tackle the last big up and the last big down!
Running hard.
Photo by Robin Rongey
The last climb is a doozy with 60-something big stone steps. But my screw shoes eat them up, no slipping at all, and I continue charging through the course. There are two guys ahead of me (neon shirt and camo shirt) so I try and catch them without completely blowing myself up. My hamstrings have started to ache and my quads are getting extremely tender, a sure sign that the effort is high. We make it back to the ridgetop where the course doubles back on itself, and I allow myself to start considering the possibility of winning. One more downhill to let the screw shoes fly! I take one final peek behind me to check if I might get caught in a sprint for the finish...no girls behind me that I can see. So I run the downhill aggressively but not as hard as last year, and I'm able to pass neon shirt! (But camo shirt is way ahead.) Somewhere close to the end my Garmin loses satellite signal so I don't even get stats for the last flat finish sprint! Oh the irony of technology! But I'm super excited to cross the finish line as the first female!

I see Eric and Mike right away at the finish line and they both congratulate me on a good race. My time is about 90 seconds slower than last year, but there is no way I'm going to beat myself up about that with today's conditions AND excellent placement in the field. I plant myself by the clock and count down in 30 second intervals...and after about 2 minutes I am pretty sure that no one from a later wave is going to beat my time. And then, the 2nd chick across the line is MEGAN!!!! I am so thrilled for her great performance! I sort of hug/attack her at the finish in congratulations. Debbie finishes not long after so I get to congratulate her too. Some brilliant running out there!
Me and men's overall winner Brandon Smith!
Photo by Brent Newman.
The rest of the day is spent on a cool-down jog, changing into dry clothes, and saying hi to all of the fine runners that braved the trip up to Pere Marquette State Park. Results take a while to get posted, but when they do, I'm shocked to see myself as 1st female and 18TH PLACE OVERALL! YEAH! The awards ceremony is longer than usual because this is the 25th anniversary of PMETR and there are some special prizes for people who have run every year. Well deserved! Mike waits until very last to announce this year's overall winners. But when he does, I can't stop smiling! This goal had only a sliver of possibility one year ago, but the conditions were right and I felt I ran the perfect race for my fitness and skills. Long live PMETR!

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  1. SO stoked for you! Anyone who follows your training knows you EARNED this one. And long live the adventure mutt! I think we're having more fun than anyone else out there. :)

    1. Thanks Kate! I definitely think we're on to something!

  2. Way to go Emily! When I didn't hear your name for the age group awards you really had me wondering what happend, but it couldn't have ended better! you deserved it!

  3. Congrats on the great finish! You looked like you were having a ball in all those pics. Great job!

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