Having no expectations for a race is probably one of the best ways not to have too many pre-race nerves. Having three hours of sleep the night before probably also helps as one's desires turn from predominantly victory to indifferent somnolence. Having my friend regal me for the past month with his excellent salesmanship of this course, coupled with copious amount of rain two days before, my expectations for the day have been reduced to less than squat. At heart, however, I am still a pretty competitive person and you never know what the day would bring though...
Starting off with no knowledge of the course and its layout/conditions, my strategy for the first loop was to decipher the flow and nuances of the course. Overall, my running style was the same as every other ultra I have done - walk/power-hike the hills and (try to) run everything else. Having done a couple of 50milers, I have definitely learned to give the distance its due respect. Conservation of energy and patience was the name of the game.
I started running behind Adam who was doing the 50K and way behind Chris, who was also doing the 50miler. The problem with racing with people you train with is that you have a perception of what they can do on a regular basis so the fact that I was not feeling good and lagging behind Adam was impacted me somewhat negatively. It turned out that he was having a stellar day. What was a little more confusing was that Mark, who was doing the 50K was behind me, which is an unusual occurrence too as I knew he had much better leg speed than I had. All this confused me a bit during the first half of the race and left me wondering if I was holding good pace or not but when I asked myself if this was an effort I could sustain for 50 miles, I did not really feel anything that would tell me otherwise so I slowed the effort a tad to be conservative and kept slogging through the mud.
On the out-and-back section of the loop, I started timing the leaders as they were heading back. Chris, at this point, was a good 8 minutes ahead of me. The gap was a bit bigger than I had expected but I knew he had been putting a lot of solid training in so I was not surprised. I counted myself as 4th or 5th overall in the 50M and felt relatively comfortable. The mud was relentless, psychologically and accessory-sucking (I had lost both shoes once during the first loop). I found myself having to focus a lot on footing and not rolling an ankle in the mud. I was starting to lose my mental flow.
I caught Adam at the start/finish aid station at the end of the first loop and, after a quick pit stop, I left ahead of him but he caught up to me pretty soon after a few miles. My mental and physical well-being was starting to ebb significantly and he pulled away on one of the many hills heading to the mid-aid station. I soon realized that I had not taken in enough calories and salt during the first loop and I was now paying the price of that folly. Another wrench in the works was when my soft-flasks, which I had picked up at the start/finish aid station, tasted of soap! Mmmm, yum! That definitely did not sit well in my mouth and stomach, which started to churn. I had to rely predominantly on my half-empty bladder and what I could get from aid stations along the way. Needing calories, however, led me to choking down whatever soap-ladened coke I could to get as much calories as I could.
On the out-and-back for the second loop, I started to time when I would see Chris heading back to the aid station to see if I had a shot at third place overall. I had already passed the leader and second place heading back but Chris was not with them. I finally saw him not too far from the turnaround point and stopped to have a quick chat. I was still not feeling so good so the chase to catch up to him from the turnaround back to the aid station was a delicate dance between pushing the pace and conserving energy. He was slowly coming back to me, though. Patience and calm. I caught him at the mid-aid station and we ran/hiked together back to the start/finish to finish our second loop. I was glad to have some company as the out-and-back stretch was now a desolate, empty mud pit littered with staggering 50milers.
At the aid station, I lingered a bit to drink a bunch of coke, swap out my race vest and get a lovely treat from a lovely volunteer in the form of a peanut butter-slattered chocolate chip cookie. Mentally, I was still fatigued and I was in real need of substantial food so that did the trick (so did copious amounts of coke). Infused with a little more energy and feeling a little more upbeat that I was now within a decent shot at third, I caught up with Chris and proceeded to pick up the pace. I figured we would be able to stay together as I would be faster on the downhills and he would catch up to me on the uphills but after a succession of downhills, I had lost him. I waited a little bit at the midway aid station to see if he would show up but I was starting to get cold and wanted to get moving to see if I had a shot at catching second. Starting out on that final out-and-back, I really had to steel myself mentally, as I was now committed to finishing the 50miler as I would not be able to drop to the 50K. On the final out-and-back, I could see the leader was at least half an hour ahead of me but second place was less than twenty minutes ahead. Hey, anything can happen in the last 15 miles of an ultra, right? He looked strong but, if he blew up, I wanted to be within opportunity range, especially if he started walking a lot. I was still trying to be conservative until i started the final loop as I really wanted to avoid an epic blowup. Patience and calm.
Coming into the start/finish aid station with 8.5 miles to go for the final lap, i downed a bunch of coke and took off in pursuit of second. One of my main goals for this race was to practice conserving as much energy as I could for the end and go as hard as I could for a consistent but fast final lap. I wanted a reversal of circumstances from Tecumseh, where I started out too fast and blew up epicly for a death march of the last half marathon of the race. I had finished the third loop in 8:51 and I was pretty stoked as that meant I had a good chance of finishing under 11 hours for a 50miler, which was a goal that I had been chasing for awhile. 8.5miles is only one and a half loops of the Pate Hollow Trail and I was confident that I could finish that in under two hours, even at this point of the race. I was still managing to hit 9min/mile pace on some of the flatter, slightly downhill runnable sections, which was a real confidence booster as that definitely not happen in any of my previous long races. I was still having to stop mid-uphill during the longer uphills to stretch out my really tight hamstrings but I had not seen anyone in awhile so I was pretty confident I was not losing third place.
For the last mile, tears started welling up in my eyes as I ran to the finish line with M83's Outro playing in my ears. (cause you have to finish an ultra listening to M83's Outro, right?) Finishing with a 10:49 and a 21 minute 50M PR, I was really stoked. Even though I couldn't catch second place, I had put three minutes into him (eight minutes into the leader) and had run the fastest final loop, being the only person to finish the final loop in under two hours. I couldn't have asked for a better race execution. Could the race have gone better? Definitely, as I was cramping too much and hungry for too much of the time. I could be better at climbing the hills. However, at the end of day, that's one more 50-mile race experience in the bag and what a elating one it was.
1) I would start eating right from the gun. I did not refuel at all during the first hour and a half of the race, save for some sips of tailwind and I am pretty sure that is what did me in for the second loop.
2) Carry more real food with quick sugar release, like cookies and nut butter packets. Carry more salt tablets.
3) Wash and rinse out my water bottles more thoroughly and taste them beforehand! :P
4) Always be problem-solving and be more prepared. On hindsight, I should have brought Rocktape to tape my tight calves/hamstrings and maybe tape up Chris's knee too. I think it would have helped immensely. If I run JC5050, I would either carry it with me or put it in my drop bag.
5) Patience and calm. Thanks AJW.
OPSF5050 - 50M Results
Link to Strava Race Data.
Thanks to Bob Siscoe and Terry Fletcher and ITR for directing and hosting such a great event. Thanks to all the volunteers who helped out and, last of all, thanks to all the BARA people who participated in one form or another. Keep running.
Trail/ultra runner, Designer, Foodie, Rock Climber, World Traveler, Triathlete, Level 1 RRCA-certified coach, NASM-Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) and Corrective Exercise Specialist (CES)