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Race recap: Laurel Festival 10K (and win)

Race recap: Laurel Festival 10K

I’ve laced up to the start of more than 50 races – big and small – in my lifetime. I’ve come in first in my age group locally and usually fall somewhere in the upper third of runners whenever we’re away from home. So, when I signed up to run the Laurel Festival 10K in my hometown last weekend, I figured getting a good place in the 30-39 age group was probably a safe bet.

But let’s take a step backward for a minute. It had been four long years since I last ran this particular course, which starts in the middle of Wellsboro, Penn’s business district area and snakes through the hills surrounding town. The elevation starts at around 1,300 feet but quickly climbs over the path’s first 2.5 miles to a leg shaking 1,800 feet above sea level. Then there’s a brief quarter mile downhill followed – again – by another steady climb until mile 4.5. The rest is a knee-busting downhill to the finish in a popular town park.

My mom used to run this race, in reverse those days, back in the 1980s. I remember running the 1-mile fun run and marveling at how amazing those adult runners were for undertaking the harrowing task. I have even heard the 10K course called the “hardest race east of the Mississippi,” though with the explosion in races over the years, I’m sure others may claim that fame instead.

One of the key points of difficulty for this race is typically the hot June weather combined with a 9 a.m. start. The temperatures are usually in the 70s with high humidity, warming to the 80s by the race end. There isn’t much shade on the mountains either, so I was happy that this year’s weather graced us with temperatures in 50-degree territory with gorgeous sun and relatively dry air.

Sleeping on a mattress in a makeshift guest room the night before didn’t exactly prime me for the best start. Nor did waking up to my brother and his girlfriend returning from a wild night at 4 a.m. before my 6 a.m. wakeup call. Regardless, I was ready to make myself proud my crushing the 6.2 miles and getting on with the rest of the day’s activities.

After the standard registration, half mile warmup, and what seemed like 50 bathroom breaks before the start, I was nervously making my way up the first hill in time with the other racers. I held my pace steady, but comfortable. I don’t normally wear a watch, but I’d say I was running 7:45/mile. Now, I currently live in a river valley and don’t practice hills, so I didn’t want to find myself walking before it was absolutely necessary. Before I knew it, though, I was onto the end of that first climb (where time seemed to stand still with each step forward) and my legs were still going.

After that short, steep downhill, I knew the best was yet to come. Though the next was a much shorter overall climb, I did find my legs in a state of peril, at which point I decided to employ the walk/run method to conserve my energy for a fast finish. I ran for a count of 30 and followed by a quick step walk for the same count (or so). The guy next to me sort of joked that the hills were too much for my body, and I heartily agreed. (Somehow, though, I didn’t see him until the finish, where he was a good 30 seconds behind me.)

With all the hills behind me, I felt my work was done. But that’s when the true race really began. As I made my way back into town, spectators of all sorts lined the country roads. It’s at this point when I realized I was actually the first female. I kept looking behind me expecting someone to blow past and take this coveted title from my loose grasp, but when I saw I only had a quarter mile left, I knew this win was in the bag.

I crossed the line at 48:20, 16th overall and – YES! – first female. It was not a PR time for me, but I did finish almost 2 full minutes better than my best time on this particular course. The next female finished around a minute and 40 seconds behind me. In previous years, there have been women who have finished in the low 40s. Crazy fast. With the competition who showed up that particular morning, I was proud to accept the honor regardless.

Winning a race was never something I considered happening to me. What I can tell you is that victory is sweet. When I was a senior in high school, I could barely run a single mile. And now? Well, my renewed fire for competition is propelling me forward into the summer racing season with some major gusto. Come on sub-22 minute 5K!

Written by  Ashley Marcin.