I chose Pinelands Trail Running Festival as my first 50 miler for a few reasons, but one of the main ones was because I ran it in High School Cross Country and really struggled there. I remember the hills absolutely demolishing me and walking so much of that 5k. I would come across the finish line feeling completely depleted and mentally frustrated after 3 miles. I also ran the 25k there in 2013 and it also ate me up. I did not train really at all for that race and the mud that year really got the best of me. I wanted to run this race, doing 3 loops of the 25k course, and have a blast. I wanted to show up to the start line feeling healthy and excited.
I didn’t organize to have any pacers (well, mainly because I just moved back and didn’t know anyone who would be willing to pace me for 15+ miles over Memorial Day Weekend) and my “crew” was my mom (thanks Mom!). I would pass through the finish area three times and the final 4th time I would finish. I packed a large plastic bin with an assortment of items that my mom would help me repack my bag, change out my shoes & socks, refill my fuel, and reapply sunscreen/bug spray. I wanted to do a loop course like this one also because it just seemed easier to digest for me (easier for my crew as well)! I love loop courses (they aren’t for everyone) and was relatively familiar with the course from running the 25k prior.
The race directors mentioned that they recently switched up the loops/course start & finish area the week of the race, so I really didn’t have a lot of time to look over it. I would be doing a small 10k loop and then three of the larger 25k loops. I felt super excited, and no nerves at the 6am start. I had oatmeal on the hour drive down to the race start and half of my peanut butter/ banana/ cinnamon sandwich before starting.
The first 10k flew by and the temperatures were perfect. It had poured rain the night before and that cooled things down a bit for the start. I had hoped the clouds would remain for the rest of the day, but no such luck. With all of the rain that we got, the fields were extremely muddy. On the first loop, I chatted with some runners around me and walked on the steep uphills to save my legs for the later miles of the race. I stopped at aid stations when I needed to, ate the remainder of my pb & banana, had a salt tab, 2 gels, and hydrated often. My goal was to eat something every 30-35 minutes of the race (and for the most part, I stuck to this).
The first portion of the larger loop is mainly in fields where it was really muddy and then it weaves you into the trees and gentle rolling hills. The aid stations were separated out nicely and all had a great energy with eager volunteers to fill water bottles.
I came through my first loop faster than I anticipated, but I still felt pretty good. My first pair of shoes had dug into my heel and worn off my skin (I’ll spare you the photos) to the point where my socks/ sneakers were completely soaked through with blood. It was super painful and I was so happy to have brought three pairs of shoes/socks because that saved me. I wrapped all of my “problem areas/blister formations” with KT tape, refueled with pickles/pickle juice (my favorite), some pb&j, and reapplied sunscreen then I was off! This was my longest pit-stop and it took around 15 minutes for me to clean myself up/ tape it all together. Definitely longer than I probably should have taken, but the longer stop gave me life. My legs were still feeling descent at this point, but then we were weaved in with the 25k and 50k runners. It was a slower second loop (mainly because the energy was lower at this point with all of the back-of-the-pack 25/50k runners).
I hardly remembered most parts of the loop from my first-time around, so everything seemed relatively new still (ha). It started to get really hot at this point (mid 70’s). I slowed down my pace when I needed to, refueled often, and focused on sodium intake (I’m a big salty sweater). Because of the increase in foot traffic, the mud sections were getting pretty awful. My feet would ‘sink’ into the mud (no matter the path I took) and sometimes I’d have trouble pulling my shoe out at this point (ha).
I came in after my second loop still feeling pretty good. I did still feel really warm from the heat and could feel a few blisters developing that I needed to tend to. I switched out my shoes, socks, switched out kt tape around my potential blisters, refueled with more pickles/pickle juice, sunscreen, pb&j, coconut water, and some coke. I did a better job of getting back out there after maybe 10ish minutes of replenishing. I finally turned my headphones on for this point and was relieved that the majority of the 25k/50k runners would be finished at this point and it would be quieter. I saved any photo taking for the final loop as well.
The mud sections and heat were still killer at this point. My watch was also showing that I was ahead of their ‘mileage’ by around 1.5 miles, but I didn’t let it shake my mentality at all. I honestly was having so much FUN. I was over 35 miles in and couldn’t stop smiling. It was just so beautiful out there. Then, it started to downpour for a hot second (it felt amazing) and then turned extremely warm out again. The weather continued to do this on-and-off for the remainder of the day for me.
I stayed positive, continued to focus on fuel/hydration, and was at utter-disbelief that I was still able to run at this point! I guess that’s the best part of training/ also saving my legs earlier on in the race. I thought while I was running that my third loop was my fastest (it certainly went by the fastest), but in reality it was my slowest (ha - whoops!). I remember looking down at one point thinking that I was running a sub 10-minute mile, but in reality my watch said that I was running 14:xx pace?!? Ha. I suppose I was a bit delirious at this point?
I STILL couldn’t stop smiling and by mile 46, I knew I could do it. This race was a complete 180* shift from my first 50k experience last year. I never once struggled mentally or thought of ‘dropping out’ or never ‘hit the wall’. I enjoyed every.single.second even with the crazy weather and inches of mud. I was also passing quite a few runners in the last lap (which felt pretty grand).
I turned my podcast off for the last mile and listened to the beauty of the birds. It may sound cheesy, but I just felt so unbelievably grateful. Attitude of Gratitude is my favorite mantra and I can’t tell you how many times I repeated it to myself during the race. I vowed to run up the final hill to the finish line and wanted to both smile and cry tears of happiness, but I ultimately settled on a super cheesy smile.
I finished in 11-something hours and ran 52.18 miles (according to my garmin). They gave all 50 mile finishes this amazing cowbell, a 50 mile finisher glass, socks, and a buff.
A day later and I’m still in awe of what my body permitted me to do yesterday. I’m so happy that I had such a great experience at the race and came away from it with so much joy. It was the perfect ‘re-introduction’ to Maine - it was so beautiful there with the farmlands, wide trails, very little technical terrain, and well-stocked aid stations. Despite from pretty awful blisters and overall soreness, I feel OK otherwise. My favorite aid station fuel was boiled potatoes and then rolled it in some salt (pure amazingness).
Post race meal? Wendy’s junior bacon cheeseburger, fries, & chicken nuggets, shipyard ale, and mini oreo blizzard. Delicious. I also think I hit my step goal yesterday ; )