I woke up at about 3:15 AM which was 45 minutes earlier than I had set my alarm for. That's just what happens to me on the big day I guess; and what has to happen when the start is at 6:30 and you want to eat breakfast and then have to drive 30 minutes to get there.
Today I was running the Mt. Hood 50, my longest trail run ever by 20 miles(!). I have been asked by a few people (and I used to ask people), "How do you train for a long event? Do you run the same distance or close to it?" The answer is usually a resounding NO. Not many people can run 50 miles in training - at least not often - and still hope to put in quality training on top of that. The way to approach these things, in my humble opinion, is to ramp up your volume slowly and instead to do back-to-back runs of a relatively long distance. Like 20 or 25 miles. Or even 20-25 one day and then 15 the next. Combine that with some faster tempo efforts and quality rest (so you can do it again) then come race day you just rest up, start slow and hopefully you can accelerate as you finish.
Which is just what I was able to do. Oh happy day.
This event can be summed up in a few short stories so here you go.
STORY #1 - Pacing
Pacing has been a weakness of mine. I usually start out too fast and then fade toward the finish. This is especially easy to do in longer runs as you have rested a lot meaning you feel fresh and the pace is slower than most training efforts. A couple of times I have gotten lucky and not faded too much but a couple of times I have faded badly and not only slowed down a LOT but I've also turned the run into a death march and that is exactly what I did not want to do today seeing as it was going to be a long one. So I started slow.
Agonizingly slow it seemed at the time but I stuck to it. Just two miles from the start the trail narrows to single track and I still held back not passing people and walking when the people in front of me walked. In fact, I almost literally started at the back of the pack!
But guess what; no one passed me. Ever.
With one exception, but I'll get to that later. This course was two out-and-back loops and on the way out to the first turn-around my position didn't change all that much. I may have squirted around a couple of groups on the trail and been a bit more efficient in aid stations than some other people but once I got around the group or out of the aid station I pretty much resumed my very measured pace and just tried to eat and drink. I was so relaxed about my pace during the first loop that kept shooting video and taking pictures.
I kept thinking that 50 miles was a pretty long distance but even by the first turn-around (13.5 miles in) I started to pull a few people back and between the half way point and the second turn-around (27-38.5 miles in) I pulled a lot of people back. In fact that second loop was total carnage with many people losing one hour, two hours, even more.
By this time in the second loop I wasn't exactly feeling spry myself but I had been holding back on the descents and so was still able to run the ups and accelerate back to my pace on the flats.
Lesson (hopefully!) learned.
STORY #2 - Racing (for 17th place)
On the way out to the first turn-around I noticed a woman that was loving all the descents. The pack I was with would congeal on each climb and then on the descent she would jet ahead exuding an obvious love for what she was doing.
I was holding back for a bunch of reason; 1) I wanted to pace myself, 2) I was leery of my right foot and the blister I had there which was not properly healed up. But that didn't prevent me from vicariously enjoying the descents through her. It was truly fun to watch her bound down the hills and disappear from view each time the trail tipped down.
After the first turn-around I got out of the aid station faster than some of the group I had been running with so far. Then a few miles later we dropped a couple of guys. Then I noticed that this woman was not getting totally out of sight on each descent and finally as we approached the start/finish for the first time it was just me that kept pulling her back on the climbs. But I wasn't racing her. Not yet.
Heading out on the second loop we were on a long, gradual climb. I was basically alone as I ran through tons of faster starters but as I was leaving the first aid station there she was again pulling in. Just like me she was really determined not to slow down on the flatter sections and then as the trail dipped down for the big 'hill' in this race she once again ran past me.
This time I tried to go just a little quicker... It was a soft descent and I was feeling okay (my legs anyway - not my foot) and so by the bottom I could still just see her in the distance. As I caught and passed her on the climb to the second turn-around she said something like, "You are killing me on the climbs!" To that I think I replied, "I'm killing myself...!"
I'd be lying if I said that at this point I was not thinking of establishing a gap before the turn-around. I chugged along and tried to keep it steady and finally when I dared to look behind me she was out of sight. But not for long! Mere seconds (or so it seemed) after pulling into the turn-around aid station there she was. Ouch! It was hard but I took my drinks, filled my bottle, grabbed some food and got outa Dodge pronto. Here I am before she pulled up thinking I had time for a leisurely snack.
On this first descent coming home I again let myself run just a little faster. I hit the last climb and I still didn't see her behind me. The first pitch of this climb is steep and I heard that everyone walked it. Unfortunately after a bit of running I found myself walking again. From memory I knew that this section was roughly two miles long and I must have walked most of it. It was here that I saw Lucca and Stephanie for the last time.
Just as I was thinking, "Martin, you really should start running again..." there she was! And she was closing on me. That lit a small fire under me and I put a few seconds into her before getting to the last aid station but when I pulled out she was right there behind me yet again.
This time there was no holding back on the descent. I knew it was down for at least a couple of miles and then flatter, rolling terrain to the finish. I was in front and as much as I was able to with my blister really aggravating me at this point I let it rip.
ASIDE - judging from my GPS data, 'rip' meant I was doing 6:00-8:00 pace. Speed is relative for sure.
As we started descending, in an attempt to make light of the effort I told her, "You are doing great!" To which she replied, "You're leading, I'm just staring at your feet..." It seemed like it took forever but finally the footsteps behind me started to get quieter and quieter. And then they were gone.
And then I was cooked!
Oh no... had I gone too hard? Was I going to cave in these last couple of miles? I could feel my legs shutting down and I had to walk for a few seconds twice on flat sections as I approached the finish. Did I look over my shoulder each time? You bet I did. As you exit the trail there is perhaps a 15' climb back to the paved road and my last two steps up here almost caused me to cramp. I kind of hopped/hobbled up onto the pavement, regained my stride and realized I had enough time in hand to pull out my camera and film my own finish.
Who was it that had pushed me all the way? Turns out it was the second fastest woman, 22 year old Courtney Dauwalter. Damn can she go downhill. Thanks Courtney, you absolutely made me go faster than I would have alone on pretty much that entire second loop.
Today Lucca was running with her good friend and apparently constant ultra companion Stephanie Astell. These guys do it right! They start together, they help each other and then they finish together.
They enjoy the journey and have the smiles to prove it.
I hope that I can remember this attitude when I start to get too competitive.
STORY #4 - the Miller brothers
Damn. Talk about natural talent, these kids have got it.
Twice when I was getting passed by front runners who were returning from the turn-around while I was still heading out I thought to myself, "That kid sure is young...!" Turns out I was right. Andrew Miller (7th place overall!) is just SEVENTEEN YEARS OLD. And his younger brother Jacob Miller who finished just one hour behind me is freaking fifteen years old.
Where do they get it? From their mother obviously, Anne Miller also finished. 2nd place in her age group thankyouverymuch.
STORY #5 - my blister
What a bummer. One week ago I tried a new shoe/sock combo that was supposed to be the ultimate anti-blister formula. Instead I got a big one right in the middle of the ball of my right foot. Rats. I think it was the socks as these shoes have served me extremely well in the past and so that is one brand I will never use again.
I rested my foot for two days and then tried a short run.
ASIDE - it's hard to deviate from your training plan once you have one...
The run went okay but my blister flared up just a little. The next day I went for my last trail run and my foot felt fine for five miles but then - at the farthest point from the car of course - it started to get warm and by the time I finished my blister had puffed up again.
All I could do now was rest and hope for the best.
Come race day I opted for different socks and some real bread & butter/meat & potatoes shoes. I even slathered my feet in Blue Steel (I normally don't use anything on my feet) and I think it helped but after half way I could tell my foot was not right.
I ran the second loop as light as I could but my foot kept getting hotter and hotter. When I finished I took my shoes and socks off and in spite of the fact that my legs felt surprisingly good I was limping something fierce. Turns out I had created a second, even larger blister under my old one and I had popped them both. Ouch.
Looks like I will be spending a few more days off of my feet.
What an incredible experience! I can still think back a few years (just three!) when I thought marathons were for the birds and that there was no WAY I would ever run one much less twice as far. How quickly attitudes change.
And in spite of the fact that I took up running pretty late in life, age has not yet gotten the better of me and I am still getting just a little faster. Turns out I was able to average 10 seconds per mile quicker today than I did on my first 50k. After coming back from an ankle injury and two months off. Not too shabby.
This run could have gone south in so many ways. I could have gone out too fast and had to pull the plug, my blister could have bothered me even more than it did, I could have finished but in a not-so-good way like the guy that needed this.
Instead I finished slightly battered and totally psyched. Did I mention that trail running gives you a super dirt tan?
Here are all the pictures and video.
|Breakfast||4:00 AM - peanut butter and Nutella sandwich on rye bread, water|
6:00 AM - a piece of Crazy Dave's cinnamon role, water
|Workout Food||.75 l of water, about 7 bottles of Gu Electrolyte Brew, 1.5 peanut butter and jam sandwiches, some potato chips, some Fig Newtons, about 9 GUs, some pieces of orange, about 1.5 bananas, some pretzel sticks|
|Injuries||blister on ball of right foot|
|Time of Day||6:30 AM|
|Weather||low 40s to mid 70s, sunny, dry, calm|
|Course||two out-and-back loops on the Pacific Crest Trail|
|Results||5th - Men 40-49|
17th - Overall
|Equipment||Brooks Cascadia 8, Garmin Fenix, UltrAspire Alpha|
|Clothing||Feetures Elite Merino socks, Brooks 5" Essential Run Short, Craft sleeveless top, Brooks short sleeve team shirt, Headsweats Visor|