12 January 2013

Bridle Trails Winter Running Festival 50k

Good grief... as I sit here with my warm tea and pajamas on the morning of the Bridle Trails Winter Running Festival I don't mind admitting that I am extraordinarily nervous about this stupid race! Not that the run itself is stupid, I feel stupid for getting so worked up about it.

Last weekend I sprained my left ankle something fierce and that really put a damper on this week's training. That, and this is only my second 50k ever. Did I mention the forecast is for mid 30s at the start and for upper 20s at the finish? And the reason it will be getting colder is that the race starts at 3:00 PM so we're also going to be running in the dark most of the time.

To top it off I had a time goal before I hurt myself, that being to go under five hours.

Bring it. [He says meekly...]

This race is put on by the Seattle Running Club and Northwest Trail Runs and from what I hear it's somewhat of a NW tradition. The course is a 5-mile loop over fairly very flat, not-so-technical trails (which I guess is good if you are going to be out there in the dark). In past years it has been wet and at times incredibly muddy so I suppose the cold this year is a bit of a blessing in disguise.

Driving to Bridle Trails Park from my house is a breeze. I-90, I-405, get off the freeway, go down a road and turn left into the parking lot. Nice. And because a Discover Pass is required to park in this lot it wasn't even half full. I put on my hat and gloves, got my number, did some cursory stretching and then because it was freaking freezing went back to my van and turned on the engine to stay warm.

Holy cow was I cold. And it was only 2:00 PM! What was I going to feel like once the sun went down?

If there is one symptom of aging that has made itself more prominent than any other it's that I just can't maintain any body heat when I am sedentary. Once I get moving/exercising it's usually okay but sitting still? No dice. I had the heater on 11 and was dreading going back outside. Finally, with 15 minutes to go before the start I sacked up and walked over to the start wearing only what I was going to run in.

After one last visit to the porta-potty (nothing like a race to make you need to pee five times in 60 minutes...) I walked up to the start just in time to hear them say, "Any questions?" Nope, let's get moving already.

ASIDE - it seems no matter what the temperature or conditions, running races will always bring out some dillweed who insists on wearing a tank top. Today I saw three of them and two more people in just short sleeves. At least one singlet-sporting super star was also wearing arm warmers. C'mon people...


Within three strides my right hip had flared up. Shit. Ever since I sprained my ankle on Tiger I must have favored my other leg too much and it caused some tightness that I have not been able to work out. I have been on Ibuprofen all week and have stretched twice and have taken it easy all week but I guess this is still an issue.

Before the start Steven Kent said hi to me. This is the same Steve that paced me, then coaxed me and finally practically carried me to the end of the Loop The Lake Marathon two weeks ago. I was thinking about asking him what his time goal was then thought it was probably better not to know as he is faster than I am and I really wanted to run my own race today. Still, super nice of him to say hi. Of course as I limped down the start/finish chute, around the first turn and onto the trail I'd be lying if I said I didn't look up to see where Steve was... he had on a really bright shirt so was easy to spot.
needless to say I was SO bummed about my hip acting up. On the treadmill I was able to run through the tightness so I resolved to just take it easy, be as fluid and symmetrical as possible and hopefully I would come good. Or at least les tied up.

Lap #1
It was fast. I knew it was too fast and I still didn't slow down. I think that all the rest this week plus seeing Steve up the road was the cause. :) As a good friend has told me many times, you can't bank time in a running race like you can in a cycling race. Obviously I still need to ingrain this factoid. I tried to keep sipping on my bottle and never felt stressed so just ran it in.

Lap #2
I pulled into the aid station, threw back a GU and since my bottle was only half empty took off pronto. Steve had put a little bit of time into me but as I pulled in he was just pulling out and he said hi again. That was nice.

In the aid station I glanced at my watch and could not believe the time! As I ran past the finish line I looked over at the clock and sure enough it said 38 minutes. THIRTY EIGHT. And here my goal was sub five hours going in. I would have to blow a mile high to not make that so I checked my watch again and the distance said 4.93 miles so given that my watch is usually a bit short I figured this was all true.

Should I reevaluate my goal? Nah... I was going to wait one more lap and see what happened.
The tightness in my hip was not gone but it was bearable and I no longer felt like I was limping, just running with discomfort.

Lap #3
After lap #2 I grabbed another GU and this time filled up my bottle as it was empty. I also got my light from my drop bag and put it on over my hat. For just a second I thought it would be doable to run lap #3 with no light then I thought why be stupid and risk injury. it's a good thing I took it.
I looked at the clock when I ran past the start/finish again and nothing had changed, I was still smoking. I had run two laps in 1:18. As scary as this sounded to me I decided to just maintain and see what happened. I was not breathing super hard and I was running the entire course so I was guardedly optimistic about the outcome.

About half way through lap #3 I had to turn on my headlamp. I was psyched! Today was my first day using this Black Diamond Icon Headlamp (200 lumens) and it was comfy and in spite of the relatively big battery pack on the back of the strap it did not feel heavy. And it was bright! In fact, throughout the course of this run I would have no fewer than three people remark that my light appeared to be the brightest one on the course. Nice.

Lap #4
In the aid station after lap #3 I ate another GU and again did not fill up my bottle as it was still roughly half full. I thought it was pretty cool that my times were what they were as this made for an extremely fast transition in the aid station. If my times had been any longer I would have had to eat more and fill my bottle after each lap.

Passing the clock after lap #3 I saw I was sub 1:20 and honestly this was blowing my mind. I started to entertain a sub 4-hour time but didn't let myself get carried away as I know the second half was going to be slower. How much exactly was the question.

Throughout the race but especially during the first two laps I had to thread my way through groups of runners. Usually it was no big deal but sometimes I was doing the old tightrope walk along the edge of the trail when there was not much room. Exciting stuff. :) On lap #4 the traffic started to taper off and now in addition to catching fewer people I was getting lapped by the fastest teams. Damn... some of these guys were flying along. It was impressive.

During this lap I could feel myself slowing down for sure. But I was still running the entire course and managing the effort so again I decided to carry on and see what happened. I think I assumed that when the hammer was going to drop it would be a controlled drop. Again, I have lots to learn.
The course was really well marked including glow sticks which was super cool at night. That plus my bitchin' light and I was still having quite a bit of fun.

Lap #5
I pulled into the aid station after lap #4, got my GU and filled my bottle and took off.
And then my back seized up. Okay, not totally obviously but there was a big spasm as I started to move again and I got worried. I took me about 300 m to get back up to speed this time but I noticed that when I made an extra effort to keep my upper body really upright my back felt incrementally better. Whew.

Lap #5 was even slower but I still ran the whole thing. I could absolutely tell that I was dogging it on the climbs and did not have the same lightness on the flats and couldn't quite coast as fast on the descents but I was still running! I resolved to make that my goal - run the whole thing regardless of my time.

On this lap I caught some guy named Will and we ended up running the whole thing together. Turns out his wife has just started running and so they did this event as a two-person team. How cool. Based on our conversation it sounded like he was quite a bit more experienced than I was but he was willing to go my pace. At the end of lap #5 I had to slow down just a bit and he did likewise. That was very nice. Company at any time but especially at night is great.

About half way through lap #5 I saw Glen Mangiantini who was wearing shorts. I didn't really feel 'cold' but I was slowing down and tying up so I suspect the cold was in part responsible for this. I just can't do the shorts thing anymore when it's this chilly.

I finished lap #5 on what felt like fumes. Oops...

Lap #6
As I pulled into the aid station Eric Sach was there and asked how I was. "Gee Eric, not so great I think..." He encouraged me to find someone to run the last lap with and wished me luck. At this point was SO sick of gel that I ate two small pieces of boiled red potato and washed them down with some Coke. Then I pulled out of the aid station and my back felt like it was exploding!

Throughout the race people had been recognizing me and encouraging me. I had Win Van Pelt, Eric Sach, Angel Rossi Mathis (who was helping in the aid station) and Rory Muller and Deanna Muller from BuDu Racing (who were handling the timing) all encourage me while I was running. Thanks so much guys! As my body started to shut down on me I tried to channel this encouragement. :)

Not only did my back feel like crap as I started lap #6, not more than 200 m into this lap my right forearm started to cramp! WTF? At first I thought it was from holding my bottle all night long but then I realized this had never happened before and suddenly got worried as I figured if some ancillary muscles like my forearm were on the way out, what about my legs?

No sooner had I fully formulated this thought in my mind when both of my hamstrings cramped.
Guess what Martin had forgotten to do - take electrolytes. Yes it was cold as hell but I was still sweating a lot and the 2.5 bottles of sports drink I had consumed were obviously not up to the job of keeping these cramps at bay. Rats.

This was probably my low point. I still had about 4.5 miles to run and I was scared I might have to walk and/or stop to stretch.

Then I started remembering some things much more accomplished ultra runners had said; stuff like, "It's not about the goal, it's about embracing the journey." and, "You don't have to run fast, you just have to run all day." So I tried to relax and not worry about stuff like my time or whether or not I had to walk and I slowed down.

Incredibly, I was able to run through this and my hamstrings did not bother me again. in addition to slowing down I also drained my bottle in short order.

Did I mention that when I was in the aid station after lap #5 I had told the guy filling bottles to just give me 3/4 of a bottle? It seems I had drunk slightly more than half during lap #5 but I figured for sure I would not need a full bottle during lap #6 so why carry the extra weight. Hahahahaha... I am an idiot.

So now I get to the first 'hill' which is about .5 miles into the loop and I'm still running. I recalled my goal of running the whole thing but half way up this hill there is a lull in the grade and suddenly I'm walking.

From previous experience I know that once I start to walk (at least when I'm trying to run) I start to walk a lot and today was no different. That first walk was like Hans Brinker pulling his finger out of the dyke and I walked about five more times I think.

I was also alone. At first I thought this would be a bummer but it was perhaps not so bad as I could go as slow as I wanted. :) And slow is exactly what I went. Damn.

My 'run' had turned to a jog/shuffle as I was trying to save my back and my hamstrings. Finally, with about 2.5 miles left I somehow caught this guy who was also doing the 50k solo. It kind of blew me away. And then just after I passed him, he passed me back. And then dropped me! People are interesting. Sometimes the motivation of beating the other guy - even if it's for 30th place or whatever - will spur you on. We chatted for just a bit but then in very short order he started to run away from me as I walked up yet another riser.

Another really cool thing about my headlamp is that the light goes waaaaay down the trail. Some people were wearing these running jackets with reflective piping and I could see them way before I could hear them. As I was plodding along I saw yet another such jacket and it motivated me to speedup just a little. I finally caught this guy but promptly had to walk again; at which point he passed me back! When I started running again I passed him back and it was obvious that my natural stride and speed was faster than his - it was just a mater of whether or not I could keep running. :) I think I walked one more time but this time I had put a big enough gap between me and him that he did not catch up. Another tiny, insignificant victory was mine!

The last .75 miles of this loop are really fun. Just after you crest the last climb you turn left off of the gravel freeway of a path onto some super single track. When you pop out of this you have the longest descent of the loop back to the finish.

By now I had almost memorized the loop and so each time I got to this single track I knew I was close and probably sped up. Lucky for me I still had some vapors left in the tank and so this last lap was no different. I resolved to not hit the brakes on the last descent and as I bombed down who should I see but the guy that had dropped me earlier! I caught him within 100' of the start/finish chute and in a very small way it made my day as he had been out of sight for at least two miles.

As I rolled across the finish line I glanced up and saw something like 4:15. Wow, I had really blown up on that last lap... But I made it! At the start Eric Sach had said that the course was fast and boy was he right. This was no mud fest, in fact I'd venture that the course was faster today than in the middle of the summer! The only thing that was going to slow you down was the cold.

I crossed the finish line and went straight to my van where I took off all my soaking wet clothes and put on some dry stuff. Then I hobbled back to the aid station and wolfed down two cups of turkey chili, lots of potato chips and a giant shortbread cookie. Man did that hit the spot. Did Martin eat enough on this run? Nope. Did Martin drink enough on this run? Nope. Should Martin worry more about electrolytes while on long runs? Yep.

I had gotten incredibly cold just walking from my van back to the aid station. And now, even though I had a hot cup of chili in my hands and in my stomach I was starting to shake. Badly.

Soon I realized I had to get the heck out of there and made a beeline for the parking lot. When I got back to the van I realized I was in a pretty bad way as it took me about 15 seconds to muster up the coordination to get the key in the door. :( I had the heat maxed out all the way home and only just stopped shivering when I pulled up to our house. Yikes.

My fancy, new GPS watch once again let me down! It recorded four laps perfectly and then simply stopped! I recall looking down during lap #5 and seeing the dreaded 'cannot connect to satellite' message and my heart sank. The glass also gets covered in condensation any time the temperature dips below 40 degrees. Not good. Obviously it's time to talk to Garmin and/or get this thing replaced.
When I got home I could barely walk up our stairs, my back was completely torched. It has not felt this bad in at least a year. If nothing else it gives me more motivation to stop slacking off on the core work. I was also still frozen and stood in the shower for ages just letting the hot water warm me.
This run was amazing. The conditions were pretty near perfect for a really fast time. It was so professionally run, the aid was fantastic, the results were prompt, the volunteers were numerous and awesome, the course markings was good and plentiful, the course was fun and running in the dark was a blast. I need to pace myself better and do some tempo running to survive this distance it seems but learning is always good. As long as I really do learn and don't quickly forget. :)

Thanks also to The Balanced Athlete, Northwest Trail Runs and Fleet Feet Sports for supporting this run.

My GPS files below is messed up but you can at least see my first four laps. I love how mile 21 took me 1:30 to complete. It was so slow Garmin didn't even offer a pace for that. :) The splits from the results tell the whole story.


Here are all the pictures.

Sleep 6
Waking HR
Body Weight
Body Fat
Breakfast 7:00 AM - tea
8:00 Am - Smoothie 2.0
Lunch 1:00 PM - banana
1:30 PM - 3 Perpetuem Solids, tea
Dinner 8:30 PM - 2 cups turkey chili, lots of potato chips, giant shortbread cookie
Workout Food just before start - GU
race - 4 GUs, 1 bottle w/2 scoops HEED, 2 bottles w/some kind of Gatorade, 2 pieces of boiled potato, 2 small cups of Coke
Injuries My left ankle did fine!
Time of Day 3:00 PM
Workout Type race
Weather mid 30s at the start, upper 20s at the finish, dry, calm
Course 5-mile rolling loop, with 2 extended flat sections and 3 'climbs' (50' hills really) of note, about half of the loop is on a wider gravel path and the rest on dirt single track
Results 6th - 50k solo overall
official results
Time 4:15:50
Distance 50 km
Pace 8:14
Equipment Hoka Stinson Evo, hand-held bottle, Black Diamond Icon Headlamp
Clothing Teko organic SIN3RGI Light Minicrew, Under Armour boxer briefs, Mountain Hardwear tights, Craft Active Classic Long Sleeve Baselayer, SmartWool NTS Micro 150 Zip T, Patagonia Capilene 4 Expedition Weight Beanie, Patagonia Capilene gloves


  1. Thanks for the shout-out Martin! Wow, what a great time, especially considering that difficulty final lap. I knew you were struggling at the end, but I didn't know all this. Congratulations, and way to be strong. That speed cycling has obviously benefited you and allows you to analyze your races in a way that I don't do (and think maybe I could benefit by doing more often!). I'm definitely coming at it from the ultrarunner mentality that you describe!

  2. @Angel - thanks for the kind words! It was awesome of you to volunteer and so great to see a face I knew in the aid station.

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