scenic view of waterfall in forest

TARC Stone Cat Trail Festival 50 Miler

Volunteers at trail races are usually awesome, but I have to say that the TARC (Trail Animals Running Club) volunteers are really a step up. This was my first race with them, and I am so happy I found this small trail running community on the east coast! The nothing-fancy, local, volunteer-based nature of this race was just the best intro to east coast trail running I could’ve found. From having foam rollers at the aid station to giving me stretches to do when things got tight, I literally would not have made it through the last 30 miles without them. Next time I have to stop a second longer at the aid stations and get their names! Thank you so much!

Where was this energy coming from? What was I running on? Funnily enough, I didn’t feel like I had a big “why” during this race. People say that when things get hard you should tune into your why, but I couldn’t identify my why nor did I feel like I needed a why. Instead, I had months worth of pent-up I-wanna-just-run energy that finally had an outlet. Sure, I guess my “why” was because I wanted to run… and see how long I could just keep running. I was so grateful just to get to a start line after the Lake Sonoma 50 DNS and recovering from a stress fracture. And I was inspired by Heather Jackson’s recent Javelina win where her goal was to run the whole time.

This race took 11 ½ hours. Eleven and a half! It was definitely longer than 50 miles, probably more like 54-55, but either way, it was generally just slow going. There were so many roots and rocks, and they were all covered by leaves! It was bumpy but not hilly or mountainous (elevation gain overall was about 4300 ft, so compared to the Marin 50M or Mammoth 50k it was real flat).

The race was four 13-ish mile loops. There were only 2 aid stations total. We woke up at 2:30am to drive there. We checked in around 4:30 and did our hip exercises. The race briefing was brief (a good thing!), and the race started at 5! It was chilly but not cold – basically it was a good temperature to keep us cool, but I only got cold if I stopped for too long, probably around 48 degrees F. Most of the first loop was in the dark, which was a first-time trail-running-in-the-dark experience for me that I loved (so meditative, very one-step-at-a-time, very quiet). I ran most of the first loop with a group, which was good because I ran straight off the path a few times when I was leading oops. It was super well-marked (including reflective markers and reflective arrows), I’m just incompetent and it was my first time on these trails. The most memorable part of the first loop was the sunrise. It was spectacular pink and purple through the clouds (this photo does not do it justice).

Running in the dark!
Gorgeous sunrise. Working on taking the time to stop and appreciate during races.
Most of the trail looked like this. Somehow I didn’t trip taking this photo. But I did take a tumble somewhere else.

The second loop was groovy. I let my boyfriend go up ahead and settled into my own rhythm. The footing took a lot of focus. Every time I wiped my nose and my head went just partly sideways I tripped or nearly tripped. I was shocked that neither of my Achilles hurt given the struggles I’ve had with them over the past 2 months. Overall, I just felt pretty good, was eating gels and drinking water, celebrating running, and jogged probably 90-95% of this second loop. I caught up to my boyfriend at the halfway point and we left the aid station together. At this point the side of my left knee was hurting (has not happened since literally Ironman Canada in 2019) and it actually was buckling a bit on the climb out of the aid station, which was a bit concerning. The pain persisted for the entire rest of the race and oof, walking at all last night and this morning has been rough. Anyway, I ended up working with it, thinking well, if this didn’t hurt something else would be hurting. Sadly though this meant I took it a bit slower on the last two loops overall having mixed feelings about wanting to run because my muscles felt awesome and ready to attack the hills (I did for the most part—thanks, stadiums) and wanting to walk/stop and stretch to mitigate the pain in the present and for the future. Since there weren’t many aid stations to run between, I split up the route by the things I noticed we passed every loop: a particularly rocky descent, a stream crossing, a mud bath (only took a foot bath once!), an open field, a sign, a bridge, a lake, a building, pine trees, a sharp turn where I always touched the tree to help make the turn and get some energy, a steep rooty hill, a ladder, an old red car, a turn onto a fire road where I can fly to the finish…

Wheat field respite from the forest.
Casually awesome finish line vibes.
Race not complete without banana bread. Made this one for the volunteers!

I did consider stopping after 3 laps. I think that’s a tough thing about loop courses. The opportunity to stop is always there. But I wanted to stay in the forest longer. The whole purpose of my day was to do this race. And it helped that I’m a bit competitive and wanted to beat my boyfriend like I did last year at our 50-miler, so there was that. All in all, I think my pacing was good. I had more in me muscularly and aerobically but the tendons gave way. I’m excited to see what I could do with some proper training (this was off 23-mile running weeks, a few stadiums, and one 20-mile long run on pavement). Woohoo! In the end I placed 2nd female overall (though there were only 8 female finishers and 17 who DNFed), and 16th overall (out of 41 total finishers and 43 DNFs). Lots of DNFs eeks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *