It's been two years and too long to get back to the place where I ran my first fifty miler. November 19, 2011 (race report) I fumbled my way through 50+ miles and felt good about finishing but not so good about the time it took me and the way I felt after. Like many runners, I felt like I needed redemption. Or maybe that is just an excuse to get back out there.
2013 has been a year full of dealing with injuries. I started the year getting used to running in custom orthotics. I slowly built my mileage but it seemed that one thing after another kept me from getting in any sort of rhythm. Hyner in April went well for me but seemed to affect my feet a lot. I spent the summer months slowly building up yet again. I had some good weeks and some bad week. I found myself trying very hard to not do too much - mostly managing the miles and off days. I had a great time pacing at OC 100 in early October. But I had work to do after that. Unfortunately, the work didn't really happen. 8 hours/24 miles of mostly walking at OC. Other than that I have to go back to mid summer for a 20 mile run and before that to April for 31 miles at Hyner. Not exactly what I would call good training leading up to a 50 miler. "I would just fake it", I kept telling myself. "How does one fake a 50 miler?", I also asked myself. "I dunno", I answered myself. But I was certainly going to find out.
Leading up to race day, I had been dealing with strange legs pains for 2-3 weeks. I was trying to nurse it as much as possible but also wanted to be mindful if it was something that would turn serious. I had a good 17+ miler a week prior to the race and then one 5 miler during the week just to shake the legs out. The day before the race is always the worst. The anticipation...the waiting...the wondering. Let's go already!
Race Day - wake up super early, already had my gear packed in the car, I'm off. I no longer stuff myself before races as I used to. I think eating too much really worked against me in the past. Eating during the race is more important. I get to the race site early mainly due to "parking issues" that the RD alerted us to. My fear was having to park far from the start/finish. My fear came true. I parked probably a half mile away and this simply threw me off mentally. Only crazy ultra runners would complain about having to walk another half mile after running 50+ miles!!!
Met up with some fellow RA runners and handed out some shirts for Team Wegman's. Too bad Marie was not here to enjoy this since it was her idea and her doing.
Not much going on prior to this race. Pretty much everyone gathers at the start area and the RD yells "go". There were still runners arriving so people started whenever they could.
The beginning of the race was rather uneventful. Everyone had headlamps or handheld lights which would only be needed for 30+ minutes or so. A trip around the school to supposedly thin us out but into the woods and of course it was a conga line anyway. A short little out and back and we then headed onto the lollipop course. It had rained overnight making the course muddier than I anticipated but it wasn't too bad.
The first half the race was great. My plan was to go slow and steady the entire way. I did not want a repeat of two years ago. It was a beautiful morning. As the sun came up, the fog started to lift. The ground was slightly wet and the sounds of footsteps through the leaves would be the sound of the day.
Most of the time during longer races, you find yourself alone for long periods of time. That didn't happen too often on this day. At one point, I looked around my shoulder and there were 10-12 runners all bunched up - around mile 20 no less. I slowed a bit and let them pass. I don't mind running with others but I generally don't want to listen to their conversations (or attempts at singing).
side bar - generally speaking most trail & ultra runners are humble and extremely friendly. Getting closer to the halfway mark, I was passed by two male runners who I had seen flip flop with me a couple of times - one of those times was a pit stop for them to take off their shirts, place them somewhere on the course, and then sprint on down the trail. But somewhere around mile 23ish, they passed me and one of them puts his hand up and says to me "high five dude". I'm thinking hmmm...ok I'll play along. So I high fived him. Now there is nothing wrong with a high five, a fist bump, a pat on the backside or whatever, but his tone of voice was very condescending which is out of context for this type of laid back race. They passed and I kept on my consistent pace. A mile or two down the trail and I see him hunched over in the middle of a field with his buddy by his side wondering what was going on. I run closer and ask "you ok?" which I usually do for a runner stopped on the trail. He answered "well yea" (again in a condescending tone) and asks "what about you?" I never stopped to chat but kept running and simply said "ok".
I had lost the fellow RAers even before we started so I didn't know if they were in front of me or behind me. I made my way into the halfway Aid Station at 4:30 (ahead of schedule), hit the port o potty and feasted on a great variety of food. I left out and saw the same two shirtless runners looking like they were struggling and still at the AS. I am not a mean person but inside I had a sense of "haha" in me as I left them there.
I made my way onto the C & O canal for 3+ miles of the most boring and flat running so I put in the ear phones hoping to distract me from the pure insanity of running on such a straightaway. Not far into the canalway I turn around and see James gaining on me. He caught me. Of course I had no idea he was behind me in the first place.
We ran the rest of the way to the next AS and chatted. This helped me more than any music would have to distract from this section.
We hit the first drop bag AS and took some time to get ready for the rest of the race. Almost 29 miles into the race at 5:15 and things were looking good. James left out of the AS and I figured I would not see him again. I made my way up the road with him in sight but was slowed by needing to settle my stomach. I must have downed my drinks too fast.
Miles 29 -32 were a struggle as I could not find the consistency I had for most of the race. I settled in a bit and tried to just stay at one pace even if it was slow. Around mile 32 I remember hearing two runners behind me. Most of the time I veer to the right slightly and give the runners a chance to pass. But I noticed they were not trying to pass. I assumed they just wanted to stay on me and stay at my pace even though I felt like I was going so slow. I was a bit annoyed at first but after a few minutes I realized what they were doing and why. So for three quiet miles the two of them stayed with me to the next AS. When we got there the one runner thanked me for the pace. I simply thanked him back for pushing me. To be honest I probably would not have kept pace if they were not pushing me. It was a win-win.
The AS at mile 35 was a godsend. I ate a quesadilla, a big fatty piece of bacon and a cup of the most heavenly soup. Note to self, always take the soup when offered. I lingered a bit. I noticed the two guys that pushed me had taken off already. I needed to linger a bit longer. I left out and walked for a short while before I settled in on a slow pace. I had lost some time on the last 7+ miles. I was in 35 miles at 7 hours. I know I hit 38 miles at 7:40. Then the next 5 miles seemed to go on forever. It was rolling hills and I never could get any consistent running. All the hills were small but at that point in the race, they seemed huge. I stayed motivated by seeing other runners ahead of me and trying to reel them in. I was successfully able to pass 5 or 6 runners (I am pretty sure they were all struggling). Eventually I was also passed by some myself as I was progressively becoming slower. I hit 43 miles at around 8:50. I sat down at the AS and this did not help. I ended up not eating any food here but should have. I relied on Gatorade the rest of the way. Not sure if hallucinating is the norm for 50 milers but I saw a few things I am not sure existed - for instance there was the giant man eating beavers coming out of the creek. Then there was the haunted deer skeletons.
I slowly made my way out knowing there was 7 or 8 miles left. I was relegated to pulling 15 minute miles by my estimation. I hit the last AS (mile 48) at 10 hours. I had not made my goal. I was confident that 10 hours was attainable but I just could not manage. I pushed and pushed and eventually finished at 10:57ish. I was happy to be done.
So apparently faking a 50 miler is possible. I know the one piece I was missing was the long run. Runs between 4-7 hours just were not happening for me leading up to the race. I feel fairly confident that sub 10 hours will be relatively easy (no not easy but doable) with more focused training. I don't feel like I went into this race too cocky. I was ready for a bonk and even having to drop due to leg issues. So I am happy with the result. (*disclaimer - I do not recommend "faking a 50"...it is reckless and stupid!)
Thanks to all the volunteers that put on Stone Mill. The AS workers were fantastic - asking what runners needed - kicking them out when they lingered too long, making some great food. All this for 35 bucks.
Thanks to the fellow RAers for the motivation of just being on the same trails on the same day.
Thanks to Wegman's for sponsoring us. Got a few compliments on the shirts: "Go Wegman's....I love that store". "For a minute I thought your shirt was advertising an Irish Pub since it was green", and my favorite "Hey did you see there is another guy that has a Wegman's shirt?" Hmmm...what a coincidence.
So, what's next?