Race report: Greenland 50K

20140503_065308It’s been awhile since I’ve had a race to log. Since learning we were pregnant, I’d only participated in three 5Ks till Saturday, when 8 months into being a new mom I (crazily/naively?) took on my first official trail ultra at the Greenland 50K. Now I want to record some takeaways before I forget, because you know that theory about pregnancy blood doping? I think there’s something to it.

Pre-baby days, pre-race nerves rattled me so much  leading up to a big event…well, I won’t share ALL the details. This may not be a food post, but it’s still a food blog. One side effect of jitters I can share, majorly exaggerated feelings of fatigue. I’d squeeze in as much sleep leading up as possible. In my new life with a little bittle, not only is the idea of extra sleep laughable, but the pre-race week held no uninterrupted sleep stretches worth noting at all, due to a tough teething flare-up.

Needless to say, I didn’t have any expectations heading to the start line. With setbacks like chicken pox and working around nursing, I hadn’t been able to get the prep in that would have preceded a road marathon, let alone trail at elevation, 5 miles further. Fitting runs around nursing meant running straight from the house and relying on the treadmill A LOT. But somehow, I did know the day would be worthwhile. A good long trail run beckons in a gentler, more encouraging way than the intense business of the road.

W_GreenlandThe Greenland Trail Races are held in Larkspur, and feature 8-mile, 25K, and 50K options over wide, non-technical dirt trail with Pikes Peak as a backdrop. Overlapping races lend to a fun, casual atmosphere that’s great for a first-timer. The day buzzed with cheerful energy while retaining a just-right, low-key energy despite the rather intimidating fact that this particular year it was also the RRCA State Ultra Championships. The smooth, rolling trails, regular aid stations and friendly volunteers made four laps so much easier to face than one might expect, too.

A few things I had an idea of when it comes to trail running, I now know with so much greater understanding. One, respect the trail. Way to lose friends? Bring a road runner’s mentality to a trail race, blaze through aid stations, grab a disposable cup, and throw it yards down the trail. (I didn’t do this, by the way!) Trail etiquette dictates, if you don’t bring your own bottles, at the very least ease your stride to slurp and toss your cup in the trash.

Another thing, take all with a grain of salt. I lapped up so much reinforcement about the one, easy hill at Greenland that the actual rolling course with one notably steep long hill and ZERO shade for the whole loop took me a bit by surprise, especially because it was HOT. In fact, the unexpected hilliness was a dominant theme on the day among those of us first-timers. Ask about a trail, chances are you’re talking with a seasoned ultra runner for whom Leadville is fairly flat.  A Kilian Journet commenting how strange it was to be running on the flats in Unbreakable: The Western States 100. Althoughto be fair, the truth is the hills at Greenland weren’t bad at all, just there. For someone fearful of the technical, you couldn’t ask for a more accessible course to get started. But take that with a grain of salt, too. 😉

With one loop repeated four times, there’s not actually a whole lot to report when it comes to the ins and outs of race day. Woke up at 4, nursed. Drove to Larkspur, nursed…and straight to the start line, just about.

Laps one and two I ran a good bit with kilt-wearing Steve, a Glaswegian with a green card, Irish and British passports, and an Estonian wife. A multiple Leadville 100 finisher, he’s going for Leadman this year, and was nice to chat with. Most people were, in fact, those first two laps. By the time we hit the third loop, however, though camaraderie was still on, conversation was not.

One thing to remember for next time, I didn’t fuel enough, and the heat steadily built and burned. Lap four was simply survival mode. At mile 25, both my legs seized up with such startling suddenness, I was sure I was going to pull something. Both calves, left quad, right inner thigh. Trying to shake out, I threw in a few meters of butt kicks and high knees, eased right up and relaxed as much as I could. It wasn’t enough to rejuvenate my pace, but it sufficed.

20140503_122329I hit the 31st mile shuffling with a wobbly, awkward gait, feeling joyful and satisfied. In the end, I was 6th female overall, and 1st age group (once the top two finishers were taken out of the mix). I even won $20 to Boulder Running Company, woohoo! 🙂 Logically speaking, I shouldn’t really have been able to finish, and I was thrilled with the result. I’m not sure how much I owe, or not, to the whole pregnancy blood doping thing; how much was motherhood’s way of hardening the no-nonsense ability to grind through as smilingly as possible.  Too, there’s the undeniable motivation owing to the staunch support in my corner, including the most supportive, meticulous, loving and dependable husband in the world; patient advice and incredible encouragement and planning from amazing ultra runner Craig Howie; and the most brilliant, precious, chubby little  bundle of inspiration at the finish!The whole of the last lap all I could think was how each step was closer to baby cuddles.

There’s one last massive factor, though, I need to work at taking forward with me–as with all things in life, it  comes down to attitude. While I’m so pleased with my results, there is something comforting about the lonely focus that long trail distances impose on a person. You can’t judge a race by time–the courses vary so dramatically.  As an age-grouper, you can’t ever go by place really; that’s down to who shows up, out of your control. You’re left with just yourself, forced to recognize and acknowledge your effort, and the real reason you’re out there. That’s individual, but I’m guessing that part of it is probably joy.





  1. Terri
    May 5, 2014

    So cool Wendy! Since this is something I will never, never do, I really love hearing about it in your oh so interesting post! Always enjoy your writing and like I said….you are AMAZING!


    • Wendy McMillan
      May 5, 2014

      THANK YOU, Terri! I value your friendship so much. You are so supportive, and I admire you enormously. xo

  2. kristie
    May 5, 2014

    Congratulations Wendy! You are amazing and this was so much fun to read.

    • Wendy McMillan
      May 5, 2014

      Kristie, you are so wonderful and amazing at all you do. I wish we saw each other more!! Let’s get on that! 🙂

  3. Mary
    May 5, 2014

    Awesome race, and such a great post. I’m going to call you this week to get more details! Rest up. I am so proud of you. 🙂

    • Wendy McMillan
      May 5, 2014

      Can’t wait to talk to you, Mary! You are the best. Your 50K is going to be so awesome!! You’re one of the toughest and most talented people I know. 🙂

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