I arrived at the park an hour early to register. The 8 hour runners had already started and I said hello to a few I recognized as they came through. I talked with a few of the runners for the 4 hour event and soon enough we were lining up to get started. The race director, Peter, told us the rules (minimum 25k and you had to finish three 'big loops' before you could move onto the 1 mile loop) and then said a prayer and we were off.
Everybody seemed reluctant to take off so I took the lead. I knew that wasn't where I should be so I stepped off to the side about a half mile in and let the lead pack pass me. There were about 6 men and 2 women in the lead pack so I made it my goal to stay third woman until the end. I chugged along, running a comfortably hard pace and letting loose on the downhills. Halfway around the loop was a small table set up with water and Gatorade. I refilled my handheld with a mixture and moved on. There was nobody visible in front of or behind me and I mused about how I must run an awkward pace because I always seem to end up alone while others are in groups of twos or threes.
The elevation profile of the 'big loop'. It was supposed to be 5-ish miles.
I came to the last uphill of the big loop and saw the clock. One hour and twenty minutes had elapsed. I knew there was no way I was running an 8k loop that slowly so I asked one of the 8 hour runners what his Garmin was reading. He got 10k on the nose. Another runner told me he got 6.25 miles. I figured Peter had to know the loops were long. He assured me that I had nothing to worry about and I was running about average pace for most of the runners on the course.
I have to note that the aid station at the start finish was stocked with everything a runner could want. Gummy bears, pretzels, chips, ice, Gatorade, water, PB&J sandwiches, etc. I grabbed a handful of gummy bears and a couple pretzels after each loop while the volunteers filled my bottle with ice and water. This part of the race was outstanding.
I was moving into loop two in under two minutes from arriving at the aid station. I continued to go kamikaze on the downhills. On one steep section AWOLnation's 'Sail' came on and I pretended like I was Jeb Corliss flying over the mountains. I was having a blast and cruising along quite well. I ran every runnable section and fast-hiked the steep climbs. So I was even more worried when I finished the second loop with only 1:13 left in the race.
Another 4 hour runner was at the aid station when I got there and he asked if I planned to attempt the third loop in the time left. I replied that I guessed I had to and grabbed my gummy bears and took off. The other runner and I stuck together for a little while but I was fading as the temperature crept into the upper 80's and he left me after a bit. Just before the halfway water stop I caught a group of 8 hour runners. They took longer to refill their bottles than I did so I took the opportunity to pass someone for the second time in the race. (I passed a woman who was just walking one or two loops too.)
I made up my mind not to let them catch me and I pushed myself to grind down into low gear keep moving. I ran every somewhat level section and jogged every mild incline. I continued to speed hike steeper sections but my coordination was getting a little funky and I know it wasn't as quick or as graceful as the first two loops. Around what I judged to be 4 or 4.5 miles into the third loop I looked at my watch and saw it was 12:45PM. I had 15 minutes to finish the loop and I knew it wasn't going to happen.
I continued to push myself forward but the last steep climb saw the 8 hour runners catch me. I let them pass and then latched on to their group and finished strong. I made it back to the start/finish area in 4:18 with 30k under my belt. I sat down and drank some Gatorade and asked the guy I had run with on the third loop if he made it under 4 hours. He hadn't. I asked Peter if we were still going to be counted as finishers since the loop was 10k instead of 8k and we'd both put in the minimum 25k before 4 hours had elapsed. Peter said no and that we weren't the only ones, which I knew because I was never passed except by the 8 hour runners during the race. I pointed out that 25k was 2.5 loops and I had obviously done that much before 1PM but Peter's response was, "Sorry, I lied."
It was at that point that I gave up and left. For a race director to make a mockery of their own race by going back on their word and alienating all of the middle and back of the pack runners is disgusting to me. To say that you falsely advertised the 'minimum' distance required for the race is even worse. And to take $35 from all of those runners and let them run 4+ hours in the heat and sun for nothing, no t-shirt (cost extra), no goody bags, and no medal is completely rediculous. All I wanted was a finisher medal, which for this race is a handmade thing; a bunch of pieces of wire welded into the letters HHNH. I'm not asking for the moon here. I'm asking for what I earned and what the other runners just in front and just behind me earned too.
So to Peter and any race directors who feel this is okay, let me just say: NO! It's not okay. You make newer runners and slower runners feel unwelcome. You make experienced runners like myself begin to doubt themselves. You make our community of trail and ultra runners look snobby and idiotic. I for one will not take part in this again. I will welcome 5 minute milers and 15 minute milers alike and I will not let you make me feel bad for not being born with more raw talent.
So go ahead and hate but I know what I'm worth and I know I did what I was asked to do yesterday. I can hold my head high because I accomplished something. And now I'm going to go run, for free, with no one to tell me it's not far enough or fast enough.