As with any race, especially ultra distances, the Long Play 33-miler was an adventure. Frankly, at some points it was hell but as soon as my feet stopped running, I was so happy to have done it. My running partner John and I signed up for Long Play as an aided training run for the Croom 50 we’re tackling together in April. Prepping for the race was a little more laid back without any big goals. We went to B&B Junction with Richard for dinner. I also had a new ZICO Latte coconut water and plenty of ice cream… just to be sure I was well fueled John and I carpooled from my house around 4:50am to arrive with just enough time before the 6:30am race start. Race morning was freezing and pitch black. I shiver just thinking about it. As always, trail races are more laid back and casual, but this took the prize. The race director talked a bit about the course (including how our markers changed colors throughout the race) and said, “well, I guess that’s it. Ready? 3..2..1…have a good run.” It took the crowd a few moments to realize that that was actually the official start before we started a slow group trot. I’ve said it before, but trail runners are the best. It’s a tight, welcoming, laid back, hardcore community and I love when I get to be a part of it. The first few miles were filled with old friends seeing each other and laughter as we crossed off a fraction of our total distance for the day. As luck would have it, my Garmin didn’t work race morning. It was fully charged and had worked the day before and worked the day after, but it was a no-go for the race. I love pacing myself with the watch so it was different to run without numbers. My music also came in and out the whole race. Note to self: internet radio and trail races don’t mix. I usually prefer running solo but it was so nice to run the whole race with John. We paced each other perfectly and chatted here and there but mostly just kept quiet and focused on breathing. Around mile 10 we noticed a dog following a runner ahead of us. We were surprised because at this point we were pretty deep in the woods. Once we got closer we realized the dog didn’t belong to the other runner but was actually lost. He had sores on his feet and was dirty, without tags and so cold. I was freezing in the 40* chill so it broke my heart thinking of a puppy lost in it. John, Sue (another runner) and I ran with and eventually took turns carrying the pup the 1.5 miles to the next aid station. We were so sad for the lost baby and upset so many other runners ran past the dog just leaving him lost and alone. We met a group at the aid station reluctant to help with the dog in any way. After about 10 minutes we convinced a stranger to take the dog to my car and let him stay there until the race was over. I would take him home and try to find his family. Talk about what you shouldn’t do in the middle of an ultra- a long standing break in the cold. We continued running and chatting with Sue for the next few miles. The markers on the course were terrible. Around where we found the dog there was a big turn for runners to make a right and run the bulk of the route but it was so poorly marked that many runners missed it causing their 33 mile run to end in 12 miles. We had many moments where we had to stop and try to figure out which direction the course headed. I love trail terrain- the exposed roots, soft sand, elevation changes and uneven surfaces. This terrain wasn’t the usual. They brought us through paths that just didn’t make sense. Miles of the route left us dancing and getting caught on vines that left us face first in the ground. Frankly it was unsafe and annoying in the middle of such an endurance race. My hip usually hurtswhen it’s cold out. I’d been in a lot of pain leading up to the race so I ran with a disposable heat pad. Something went wrong because when I decided to remove the pad mid-race, I had a nasty chemical burn around the pad and was bleeding. I think I didn’t feel it at first because I was so cold and numb and already in pain. My hip hurt so bad and kept getting worse so for the last 10 miles we had to mix short walking breaks (30 seconds to a few minutes) to try to stretch out. Poor John for all the complaining he endured. I usually avoid taking in calories during races (most sensitive running stomach ever) but by the time we got to the first aid station with food (which was 3 miles past what had been advertised), I overdosed on milk chocolate M&Ms. I blame the cold, my hip pain and sheer frustration with the course. Regardless, my stomach actually tolerated the candy and I ate chocolate and drank water at each aid station (3-6 miles apart). Several of the stations were un-manned with just a cooler and little cups and none of the stations offered pain relievers, vaseline or biofreeze. Very untypical of a trail ultra. We finally hit 30 miles. Around that time I noted that we hadn’t seen a marker in a while and we realized we were lost. We hit 33.3 miles while we retraced our steps and I wanted nothing more than to collapse and give up. We finally found the course again and reluctantly continued toward the finish line. When I run any significant distance, I mentally prepare for the exact distance. If it’s a marathon, I tell myself I have the strength for 26.2. This day I had worked so hard to get to 33.3 miles and no part of me wanted to continue farther… much less run it. Too bad I have an encouraging running partner who endured my whining (my hip hurt! I hated the course!) while we trotted to the finish. We ran about 36 miles total when we finally came to the finish line. Instead of an actual finish line, there was a table with a person recording our numbers and a clock with a time (the clock wasn’t visible at the start). There was no music (and it was a music-themed race), no clapping and not even a line drawn to signify when you could stop running. Sue met us at the finish and told me that a lady stopped her at the end of her race and asked if she had seen a lost dog. Sue was able to get the dog from my car and reunite him with his family! She also made the owner promise to get him a set of tags. We were so happy! We finished almost on the dot at 8 hours, which means nothing with the dog, the extra distance, getting lost and trying to find out where we were. We picked up our finisher’s awards- old records with a finishers sticker- ate some not-so-good post-race food and high tailed it out there. Between the cold, the terrain, the poor markers and the extra mileage, I was less than in love with this race. It was their inaugural race, so hopefully they work out their kinks for the future. Still, I’m not sure I would sign up after this year. I wasn’t happy during a lot of the race, but once I was in my warm car, I lit up with the joy that comes after doing what you love and accomplishing a goal, which is even better when with a friend. It’s a special kind of high. Recovery was awesome. I went to yoga the day after, made it to CrossFit the second day and ran three days after the race. I was excited to continue training for the 50 but the past week I’ve been sick and haven’t broken a sweat at all. I’m finally feeling better and hoping I can finish the last leg of my training strong. It’s 50 or bust April 7th. What is your worst racing experience? Have you ever gotten lost on a race?