Running Recap: Rick O'Donnell 5.22 Mile Trail Run & Ultra Challenge

This race recap is long, and not even remotely book-related. Consider yourself warned.

This past weekend marked my second time running the Rick O'Donnell 5.22-mile Trail Run & Ultra Challenge. Held in a gorgeous state park, the course is a 5.22-mile loop with just a wee bit of elevation gain:

Participants can sign up to run one loop, or take on the "ultra challenge" (run as many loops as you can in eight hours). Intending to run two loops as a training run for my upcoming half marathon, I signed up for the ultra challenge.

Greenbrier State Park, somewhere on the red trail

There are lots of things that appeal to me about trail running. The uneven terrain requires more mental focus than road runs, which keeps things interesting (the terrain at Rick's Run is especially uneven and rocky, calling for lots of quick-stepping over rocks that aren't as well-grounded as they appear to be). The ever-changing foot placement tends to be easier on my joints for long distances. The relaxed mentality surrounding trails in general leads to a very do-what-you-can attitude; it's perfectly acceptable to walk up a hill when said hill is a mile long and too steep to physically run.

All of this led to a very successful first loop; I gave it my best slow-and-steady effort* (the first loop of the course counts towards my running club's Grand Prix results, so I harbored some tiny hope I might accrue points for the first loop), finishing in just under an hour and five minutes (about 12:45/mile, or exactly what I'd expect for a trail pace based on my average road pace). I paused my watch, grabbed some Swedish fish and Tailwind from the aid tent, threw a replacement applesauce pouch into my Camelbak (those little kid fruit pouches are the perfect jolt of sugar + carbs for me on long runs) and then struck out for a second loop with some friends. The second loop went well, though not as quickly as the first. It was a relatively warm day for September, and humid as all get out; halfway through the second loop, I felt as though I'd been thoroughly dunked in the park's lake, and the weather was starting to take its toll. But I finished that second loop strong...

mid-run selfie snapped at the 13.65 mile mark,
officially pushing me into my longest run to date

...strong enough to try for a third. The longest I've ever run (ever) is 13.65 road miles (on a mis-marked half-marathon course that sneakily added in an extra half mile), so trying for a third loop was a fairly huge leap in terms of both mileage and effort for me. At two loops, I was 10 miles, 1500 feet of elevation gain, and 2 hours and 20 minutes into my run (longer than it takes me to run a typical half). But with just enough encouragement from friendly faces at the race, I decided to go for it.

Damn fine race signs, though I only managed to snap a photo of one of them.
Miraculously, I didn't die. I probably should have refilled my water pack, as I ran out of water in the last mile and a half (luckily, it was mostly downhill from there). I didn't eat enough on my third loop, and was ravenous by the time I hit mile 3 of the loop. I had to (once again) walk up the worst of the hills, and my quads were on fire coming back down the hills (which frankly felt harder than the uphills in some places). But I finished strong -- running, not walking -- in 3 hours and 30 minutes, almost on the nose by my watch. I couldn't have done it without encouragement from my running club friends, the incredible volunteers at the race, an amazingly well-stocked aid tent passed at each loop start, and a well-marked trail that made the solo run sections less intimidating than they otherwise might have been.

A race-day volunteer snapped some mid-race shots on a camera that was not his own, leading to some blurry photos...

Including my two aid stops, it took me 3:54 to complete 15.66 miles. That's slow compared to my road pace; Strava estimated an average pace of over 15 min/mile. There were runners who managed to do 7 or 8 loops on this course in the 8-hour cutoff time; at my pace, I wouldn't have made it more than 6, and that's assuming I could have kept a steady pace as I fatigued (a huge assumption). But it's a big accomplishment for me: my first push past the half-marathon mark, my first true effort on a trail race, the first time I started contemplating longer distances in any meaningful way. I was sore post-race, but not nearly as sore as I was after my first road half, which I attribute to better (smarter) training and strength-building.

Re-hydrating at the finish.
Appearances to the contrary, I did *not* jump in the lake.

And so here I sit, rolling my feet out on a frozen plastic roller to loosen them up and try to prevent the dreaded PF, contemplating signing up for a trail half in November or an even longer distance next year.

Yoda speaks truth.

Have I gone totally crazy?


Fueled by**:

  • Whole-wheat toast with peanut-butter and banana (pre-race)
  • Half of a water bottle with lemon-lime Nuun Energy (pre-race)
  • Safeway Mango-Apple-Carrot pouch (mile 3.5-ish)
  • Swedish fish (first aid stop, 5.22 miles)
  • ~6 oz Tailwind (first aid stop, 5.22 miles; again at second aid stop, 10.44 miles)
  • Apple-Banana pouch (mile 7-ish)
  • Tropical Fruit shot blocks (2 at mile 9-ish, and again around mile 14)
  • Salt potatoes (second aid stop, 10.44 miles)
  • Two pieces of dill pickle (second aid stop, 10.44 miles)
  • Cheeseburger (at finish line, 15.66 miles)

Geared up with:

  • Bondi band headband (shop)
  • C9 sports bra
  • C9 tank top from the Target clearance rack
  • XOskin capris (these are my new favorite things of all time; I won a pair, so didn't have to shell out for the expensive price tag, but having worn them all day in very damp temperatures this weekend, I would have spent the $85 in a heartbeat)
  • Balega wool mid-rise socks (similar)
  • Nike Zoom Kiger multi-surface trail shoe (I think I need a half size up for longer distances; these fit perfectly until my toes start to swell and now I have some toe-top blisters going on)
  • Runner's Glide (still a godsend)


*Many thanks to an ultra-running friend who kept me company on this first loop and reminded me that the secret to any great distance is an easy pace.

**Notes for next time: 50 oz of water lasts me ~2:15 in hot & humid weather. I should have refilled before attempting a third loop. I'm still very much figuring out this fuel thing, and definitely over-sugared in the first 2 hours, leaving me craving salty foods (potatoes, pickles) and in need of more water in that last loop than I had on hand. I also probably didn't need as many calories as I took in, but hey, I was hungry!

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