Life of a Runner: Miles of Trials

Hello readers! Wow, we’ve got a tremendous week ahead of us ending with Schuetzen NEIN, the nine-hour trail race at Schuetzen Park on Saturday. I can’t wait to fill you in on the details. For now, let’s start with the beginning of the week.

Monday

3 miles, 26:24 (8:47/mile)

I was determined to make this week a big one, regardless of how far I’ll go at Schuetzen. My goal is to get back into shape and reclaim a bit of my old running self, so that’s what I plan to do. Today felt great for more than one reason. It was pretty nice out this morning, but also I ran 3 miles for the first time in a while, and in the morning no less. The other big win for me was that my pace wasn’t even that slow, especially not for the morning. In the morning, I’m typically slower than in the afternoon. I can run close to 8 flat pace in the afternoon pretty consistently, but in the morning I always run closer to 9 minute miles. Regardless of the pace, I was just happy to complete the distance.

Tuesday

2 miles, 17:44 (8:52/mile)

Today was a bit slower because I got out later. I went out to run close to 8:00 in the morning, and by then it was already pretty hot. My neighbor stopped me to chat at the end, and I felt bad because I was just standing there sweating my face off. The rest of the day was relaxing. I went to the library and spent some time outside reading. Gotta get my summer tan on!

Wednesday

2 miles, 17:43 (8:52/mile)

I’m kicking myself because I woke up late again, going for a run around the same time as yesterday except it was cooler. It was actually really nice outside, so it wasn’t terrible that I slept in. Remarkably, I ran almost the exact same time today as I did yesterday. The run felt really great. I would have tried to start strength training this week, but since it’s so close to Schuetzen I think it would be best to wait until after to begin strength training. I don’t want to be sore at all for that race.

Thursday

OFF

Friday

2 miles, 17:38 (8:49/mile)

I’m honestly just surprised that all of my times this week have been so close together, just a few seconds off each other. I drove to my parents’ house yesterday and I didn’t run because I had other stuff I had to do that took precedence. I went on a short run this morning to stretch my legs out and prepare a bit for tomorrow.

While we’re talking about tomorrow, let’s just be honest with each other, shall we? I am not ready for tomorrow. The farthest I’ve run this year is 7 miles, and the most I’ve run in the past month or so is 3. I think we can safely say that the “spanker” (which you get if you run a 50k, aka 31 miles, aka 37 loops around Schuetzen) is out of reach for me this year. In addition to that, I got sunburnt on Wednesday because I was outside reading for too long. My shoulders got the worst of it, but I also had it near my knees and on my chest. That worries me a bit, I just hope it doesn’t hurt too badly when my shirt rubs up against it. Other than that, there’s just eating, hydrating, and the heat to worry about. Should be fine, right? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Saturday: Schuetzen NEIN!

22 miles, circa 7 hours and a bit (I don’t even want to try and calculate my pace but I’m guessing it’s close to 20 minutes per mile or a bit more)

Pardon my language, but holy shitbuckets. Today was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done. First thing first, we did not stay for the whole 9 hours. That alone is a bit disappointing, but when all is said and done, I know for sure I would not have been able to do another loop. Okay, let me start at the beginning. Buckle up folks, let’s take a journey.

We got to the race about 40 minutes before it started, set up our tent, got our cooler ready, and went to the bathroom. I put on some bug spray, but I forgot to put some sunscreen on (that’s an important detail for later). I think I drank an entire water bottle before the race started. I was nervous but really excited. I couldn’t wait to go out and prove to myself that I could do something amazing. Before I knew it, we were off. I was a bit concerned about my watch lasting 9 hours, but that was a problem for Future Morgan. The first loop wasn’t too surprising to me. Back in 2019, I did the last three hours of this race with my mom, who was competing, as her moral support person, so the course looked familiar. It did look a bit different from last time, though, because last time it had rained for about half the race and the course, by the end, was really torn up with mud. This time, hot and humid was definitely the name of the game, but at least the course was dry. For my first four loops, I averaged about 10 minutes per loop, which was pretty great. I was hoping to at least stay on pace for a spanker for as much as I could. I was moving pretty well, too. In Schuetzen, there’s a lot of passing and getting passed. It’s just a natural cycle you get in the rhythm of. Some people were going faster than me, some were going slower. I knew right away not to run the uphills; all it would do is wear me out. I wanted to run a smart race.

After 4 loops, I took a short break to put some anti-chafe gel on my thighs. Chafing is another big concern for today. I also grabbed a bottle of water and had some of that. Oh, just a little bit of information for y’all. The Schuetzen loop is 0.85 miles long. Each loop has between 125–150 feet of elevation gain. That’s quite a bit for 0.85 miles. Basically how the course works is you go on a steep downhill at the beginning, you go uphill for quite a while in the middle, there’s a short plateau, you go downhill again, and then there’s the last steep uphill climb back to the beginning. Here’s the other thing to know. This is a 9-hour race, and so we switch directions every 3 hours. For the first and last 3 hours, we do the original loop. For the middle 3 hours, we run the loop in reverse. It’s a way to switch it up, perhaps to interrupt the monotony, and add a bit of extra challenge to this thing (not that it needed it).

I did the next two loops in good time, but after 6 I stopped, grabbed a bottle of water, and decided to wait for Mum and Dad and go with them. I wasn’t feeling too great, and I knew having them there to pace me would do me some good so there would be less risk of me burning out early. Once I did stop and wait, the one thing I noticed was I was sweating a lot. By the time I did 6 loops, just over an hour had passed, so I was definitely going a really good pace. But my hair was soaked through and my arms were dripping. I knew I had to get more water in me to replace all that sweat. For pretty much the remainder of the race, I stayed with my mom and dad. The next two hours passed somewhat smoothly. We took a longer break close to the 3-hour mark to get some fluids and sustenance in. I believe we got in 12 loops before the 3-hour mark. Here’s where things get tricky. Thus far, I had not eaten anything. I needed to eat something to refuel, but I was so worried about how it would make me feel. Like I’ve said before, I normally cannot handle eating and running. But at that break time, I ate some animal crackers, which are easy on the stomach, and a few potato chips.

One other important thing to note is, especially when you’re going long distances in the heat, it’s super important not to just drink water. Because you’re out there sweating so much, there’s a lot of salt left in your body and no you’re sweating out all the water that can absorb it so fast. So you need other things, like juice and electrolytes to replenish and keep you so you don’t start throwing up, passing out, or dying. It can make it super dangerous if you only drink water and a lot of it. I didn’t really know this before today, to be honest. Luckily, Mum, the expert, was there. I drank some Body Armor to help. After the 3-hour mark rolled around and we switched directions, we went back out. And then I discovered just how painful the backwards loop is. That backwards loop sucked the life right out of me. I started out strong, leading my family and even running a lot of the first loop in that direction. My tune quickly changed after that first one. I think I maybe made it through one more loop at walking pace before I needed another break. That loop was kicking my butt.

We did another two loops, and then I really needed a longer break. When we got back to camp, I was swaying on my legs and not feeling groovy at all. I sat down on our cooler and ate a sandwich. Drank some more and ate some pineapple. I think that was our longest break because my parents were a bit concerned about me. They were doing great. My mom didn’t even seem affected by anything and my dad was powering through. My parents are super strong and experienced runners, and compared to them I’m a novice, especially at long distances. For a long time, through collegiate competition, my specialty was 6k and less with speed. My parents have done 5 (I think) marathons and dozens of half-marathons, and my mom completed her first ultra at this very race two years ago. So they pretty much know what they’re doing, whereas I do not. The farthest I’ve gone is 20 miles, and that was on a flat trail last summer.

Finally — it seemed like forever — the backwards segment ended and we were officially 6 hours in. That’s when I settled on my goal being 20 miles. Dad did the math, and by that point I had about 5 loops left to reach that goal and 3 hours to do it in. Plenty of time, and it was on the easier (can’t believe I can call it easy in any way) of the two loops. I was riding the struggle bus for the first go-around on the original loop again. It was at that point I started thinking, “Can I even call this a run?” In my head, I made a pie chart of this race and divvied up the percentages. Total, I think maybe 10% of it was running. Then there was probably 25–30% jogging. But 60% of the race was walking for sure, if not more. I still am on the fence about calling it a run, but it was a race nonetheless, and regardless, I did the distance. All sorts of things were running through my head. Things like: will people be disappointed to learn I only did 20 miles in 9 hours? Are the people passing me looking at me and judging me for walking? Do I even belong here?

My mom tried to keep me out of my thoughts. Through the whole thing, we had some hilarious conversations. From talking about memes to t-shirt designs, from singing songs badly to coming up with names for different parts of the course, we kept it interesting. It’s just the sort of natural banter that occurs, especially during a race as crazy as this one. I even came up with my own pain scale (mild irritation, slight discomfort, mild pain, pain, moderate pain, nigh unbearable, worst day of my life, and dead). I am happy to say that for most of the race I just stayed on plain old pain, but there were definitely moments that were nigh unbearable, and the last 5 loops I’d say were moderate pain.

The other thing was the people. Trail runners are notoriously nice people, not to mention super cool. I had the chance to briefly talk to quite a few very nice and cool people, which is always great. At several points in the race, I exclaimed how I loved people. Seriously, trail runners are the best. I want to be just like them someday.

Then, with two laps to go, my dad stopped. We found out later he drank a Body Armor that didn’t agree with him. The reason for that is probably because it was a full sugar one and not a “lyte” one. All that sugar can mess with your stomach. So my mom and I chugged on for the last two laps. At the beginning of our second-to-last lap, my watch finally died. That was upsetting, since I was really hoping to set a record on my watch for “longest run,” but my mom still had hers going. The last two laps weren’t so bad. Once I hit what I thought was the 20-mile mark, I did celebrate. I thought of how amazing that was. And I was really proud of myself. Now, as soon as we climbed the last set of stairs on our last lap and finished, I no longer felt like celebrating. I felt like getting out of the damn heat and eating some chocolate, to be honest. We ended up packing up relatively quickly, carrying everything to the car, and taking off with the AC blasting. But not before Josh, the race director, told us how many loops we did. Dad did 24 and Mum and I did 26. There was a bit of confusion because originally they had Mum down for 27, but we figured it out. It wasn’t until after we got home and showered that we did the math and realized our watches were off. Because we were in such a dense trail, it’s much more likely that the GPS will be off. But the math doesn’t lie. 26 laps of 0.85 miles, that is 22.1 miles!!! I went the farthest I’ve ever gone and beat my goal by a bit! I am really happy with how I did. It is sad and did feel disappointed for a moment because I didn’t get the spanker, and therefore have nothing to show for my accomplishment, but honestly I’m just proud of my own goal being reached.

In the car, I cried a bit. I was exhausted. I ended up falling asleep for a while. Also, I surveyed the damage. I had blisters on my shoulders from my sunburn and then being out in the heat, a blister on my ankle, a big red rash all over my thighs and chest, and chafing on my thighs. On top of that, my hips, quads, and calves felt absolutely horrible. But I did 22 miles on the toughest course I’ve ever seen.

So, last week I did 9 miles, this week I did 31. I can’t tell you how sore I am, but to sort of put it in perspective for you, I can barely walk up and down the stairs. I’ll talk more about the recovery next time and where I went wrong and such, but I’m going to end it here for now because I’ve already written a lot. Thanks for joining me on this adventure. I’m already planning on doing it next year.

See you next week.

— Morgan

Teacher, Runner, Reader, and Writer. Destined for great things, I think.