Lessons learned on my first ever trail marathon (& mini YSTR race report)

I am currently in the process of training for my first 50K. As part of that training, I ran the full marathon in early June at the Yankee Springs Trail run for part of my training buildup. Technically, I wasn't "scheduled" to hit a 26 mile training run yet, but I really wanted to do it this year since I ran the half there last year and really enjoyed it. I planned to run the marathon slowly and treat it as a training run, because I wanted to make sure I could keep on with my normal 50K training volume and not need to take a ton of time off after the race.

I did some things right and some things wrong during the race, and just thought I would share a few of them here. Oh, one thing that probably wasn't a great idea was something I did 7 days before the race, which was to head down to Yankee for a 20 mile training run! I thought that I would be hardcore and just stick to my written training plan even though I had a full marathon 7 days later. Ironically, I tried to follow the YSTR course loop from some directions that Phil Stapert (one of the race directors) sent to me and I got lost! I totally missed a turn and ended up doing 22 miles instead of 20. I know, stupid stupid stupid. But oh well, I learned my lesson that day.

And here are the rest of my comments and lessons from race day itself:

I was pretty happy with the race and how it went for me. I knew that my time would not be very fast, and was satisfied with the finishing time that I ended up with. Ironically, I was surprised when I finished the first loop in 2:21 (per the race clock) and wondered how much my pace would drop off on the second loop. I was surprised by my time because I chose to ran completely GPS & watch free that day, so I had no idea my pace or time while out on the run. From a race management standpoint, I was very happy - the aid stations were well stocked and everyone was very helpful. The course was well marked for the most part, and I never got lost. The post race refreshments and food was great, they had a nice spread and also ordered up some pizza which went perfect with my Bells Two Hearted Ale that I brought along as my reward beer!

I guess one thing that surprised me was how much harder the 2nd of the two 13.1 mile loops was. I shouldn't have been surprised at all by this, but I still somewhat was since I had already completed a number of long training runs. I actually felt real good/strong for the first 16-18 miles or so. The course has 3 aid stations out on it, and then the one at the finish/start area so it is broken up into four segments that are 3-4 miles long. The 3rd section is the hardest, when you hit all the big hills near the "back section" of the MTB trail. And the 4th section was just bad because i was whooped. Perhaps I was surprised by how quickly I went from feeling good to feeling shot. I know it wasn't from lack of calorie intake as I'm pretty sure I took in too many calories, which you can see from my list of "personal lessons" below.

1) Don't drink & eat too much, the body can only process 200-300 cals per hour. I sucked down way too much Tailwind Nutrition on my first loop (about 50-60 ounces worth)

2) If trying to maximize calories with Tailwind (or some other liquid calorie mix), don't go hogwild on the food at the aid stations. This just adds too many cals and fills the stomach <---I had a hard time getting down fluids on my second loop because I filled myself up so much with fluids and lots of yummy aid station treats on my first loop.

3) Carrying a spare bottle with just plain water (in addition to my Tailwind) was fantastic. I used it to spray cold water on head and also to mix up some concentrate between aid stations

4) Don't dilly dally too long at aid stations, you can always walk to get some rest on the course. <--I didn't have a specific time goal, but I think I spent too much time standing around & being chatty at the aid stations

5) Being patient and just staying steady pays off in the end. I was going easy and walking some hills on the first loop and had a bunch of other runners either pass me or pull away from me. I caught up to and passed a bunch of those people on the 2nd loop. I think they underestimated how much of an effect the hills would take on them throughout the entire marathon

6) I should have pulled out my mp3 player and put some tunes on for the final 1/4 of the race. I did the entire 5 hours with no music at all, & my mind was really struggling in the final 6 miles. It would have been good to have some tunes to keep me moving and fired up.

7) Running new personal records for longest distances really takes a LOT of mental strength and mental training. I think that going into this race, I underestimated how hard the final miles would be; since I was treating it as "just a training run". No matter how fast I was going to run it though, I should have known that the end was going to be tough. I learned my lesson on this marathon and know for sure that no matter how well I prepare, there WILL be a hard time during my 50K in September and I am trying my best to be ready for that.

How about you? What lessons have you learned on your journey as a trail runner?