Thursday, October 29, 2015

2015 Fall 50 Race Report

The lead up to this race was tumultuous to say the least. For the few of you that regularly read this, you know that. It was actually funny to me Friday night at my parents house when my sister asked me how I felt about it, and I was generally positive about getting the opportunity to race, being healthy, and having people to support me. Plus, I’d had enough good workouts in the past three months to think that the race might not be the disaster I worried it might be two weeks ago. 

Friday I left work a little early, but not much. Not having concrete hours I have to be at work is a big plus sometimes, like 2:30 PM on a Friday. I ran my standard 5k distance route at home, showered and headed north. I picked up Kelsey in Mineral Point who was eager to help support one of my races after I had supported her Wisconsin cross state record back in August. A short supper at Noodles and Company then on to Sheboygan. My sister helped support me on this race too, and here is her report, so it was a packed house at my parents Friday night and it was about 9:30 by the time I went to bed. 

The morning came easily and I woke up before my 3:20 AM alarm. I made two cups of coffee and had peanut butter toast. By then Kelsey and Berea were ready to go and we headed out at 3:45 AM for the long drive even further north. The drive was not entirely uneventful. We stopped at a gas station at like 5:15 AM, on a Saturday and it was open. Door County is not a populated place, I’m surprised that there was a gas station that opened so early on a Saturday. Then we ran into construction around I think Ellison Bay and I still have no idea how traffic was routed both directions through that town.

I picked up my number and sweet hoodie at the start then sat back in the van for 10 minutes. I walked around for another 15 minutes and did some leg swings. We ran into Dan Hovarth from the North Coast 24 and I thanked him again for helping me get to a hotel after the race last year. With five minutes to go I took my Team USA sweats off and headed to the front of the line for the last minute announcements. Then while it was still basically dark we were off!

Berea, Kelsey and I in the predawn rain!
Of course, I was burning with excitement, adrenaline and caffeine which put me near the front and after about half a mile I was in 4th/5th place running 5:52 pace, which is crazy, especially to be 10 seconds behind the leaders already. So I slowed it down some, and ran with Jeremy for a few miles. We went through two miles at 12:45, a good 30+ seconds behind the two leaders with several people close behind the two of us. I was thinking, ‘wow, this is a deep field… and people are going to blow up later.’ I settled into about 6:35 pace, which was faster than the 6:40-45 pace I had planned on running, but again, adrenaline gets me thinking, ‘oh it’s not that different.’ This whole time the rain was building. What was a drizzle at the start grew until it was a strong rain, with a decent 10-15 mph cross wind too.

I came through nine miles at like 58:59 or something, pretty excited about how well I felt. At almost exactly one hour the rain stopped. Shortly after that we encountered a steep little hill around mile 11 and I was passed by Chris Denucci and Camille Herron. I was taking it easy up the hill as they went past me and it was unexpected to say the least that I was on sub 5:30 finishing time pace and a woman was passing me. There was a time when I was younger when I had trouble running with the women. Part of that was being the boy in middle and high school that routinely lost to some women when we ran the two mile together. As I have gotten older I kind of see it as an honor now because the women that beat me typically have a far larger reputation than I do, and I like to race big names. I mean, she set an unofficial 50 mile world record! And I was right there with one of the best seats in the house! Another side of it is, I know how much work it takes for me to do this stuff, and I’ve got 4:31 mile speed in me, so when a lady passes me I respect her because she probably doesn’t have the same muscle or body composition I have and it must have take quite a bit of work for her to achieve this level. (I checked, she's run 3200 miles on Strava so far this year to my 1400 miles.) Finally, at the really long distances I think women have the ability to perhaps surpass the men. Look at Ann Trason, she often won races outright in her day. It’s just a matter of time before a woman comes along and runs a 160 mile 24 hour race.

At the 12 mile stop, I think, I took a gel and asked for a hat, I thought I said baseball hat, but at the next stop my sister had my stocking skull cap. So by the time I got the baseball hat on to keep the rain off, it was partly cloudy and not raining at all. Communication is tough!
It's early, of course I look strong.
18 miles in 1:58:5X and soon after that I was caught by Antony Kunkel and caught up to a 22 year old La Crosse student, I think he was Ryley, but might be a different person. It was funny, here I am in my short ultra debut running with a 22 and 23 year old that have both run more ultras than I. Anthony said I was his idol and he was planning to be on the next 24 hour team with me, and then we talked 24 hour races for a bit. Now that the race is over and I’m writing this a few days later, there is a huge difference between running for six hours and running for 24 hours. Ultimately it’s still running, you still need to be in aerobic shape, but the longer race takes everything out of you. It uses muscles fibers that don’t even activate until you’ve been running for eight hours.

Splits and Route
We ran together until around mile 24 or so. The marathon was passed in about 2:53:20, so about 80 seconds faster than I did it in training three weeks ago, only 3 seconds per mile. Then there was a steep switchback hill around 26 mile and I walked for the first time, less than a minute, but oh it was steep! I passed 27 miles in 2:59:06, slightly slowing in the third hour, but still on great pace. At the 28 mile aid station I took a package of margarita flavored Shot Blocks and saw that Tyler Sigl had dropped out and I moved up into 4th on the men's side and 5th over all.
The Fall Scenery was Great!
The last time I saw Camille and her bright green jersey for sure was around miles 31-32, and the three of them appeared to be about 90 seconds ahead of me at that point. Shortly after that I was pretty much on my own. I walked for maybe 20 seconds going through the aid station around mile 32 up a steep hill. I passed 36 miles in 4:03:2x, slowing down quite a bit in the fourth hour, still setting my 30 mile and 50k PRs in the process. Starva says my 50k PR is 3:26:59 now. I wonder if I could knock 27 minutes off of that... 

After the aid station around 32 miles the race got harder. I told Berea and Kelsey to only put 6 oz. in my bottles because otherwise they were too heavy, and my arms with having little micro-cramps when I would straiten my arm or rotate my shoulder to the outside. I have no figured out a good bottled system yet. I need to drink more, and have it with me all the time, but 20 oz. plus a bottle is too heavy for my arm.

Three things define a race versus training: 1. the mental attitude it’s a race; 2. competitors, preferably of the kind you can see or hear; 3. spectators, even if they don’t make a sound, the sight of them is encouraging. Without #2, at least seeing my competitors, and #3, except at the aid stations, it felt more like my longest training run ever, a really hard workout instead of a race. Sure I kept pushing hard because I wanted to retain my 4th male position, and the prize money that came with it, and I was curious how my body would handle this particular flavor of ultra run, but I really expected a pack to come flying past me, kind of like back in college cross country when the opposing team (MIT) ran in five person packs and they would go past me at mile two or three in an 8k race, and totally demoralize me. But it didn’t happen so I kept running.

There was a big hill around mile 39, very scenic with the yellow leaves surrounding the road, and I walked a fair amount up the hill. I would walk the steep parts, like more than 8% grade or so and then running the not as steep parts like 7% and under. Those are estimates, I'm just saying I didn't walk the whole thing.

It was quite lonely out there. Sometimes Kelsey and Berea would drive past and cheer or take a picture, but most of the time, like 4.5/5 miles there was no one cheering. It makes sense, but it's totally different from a 24 hour race where you are never more than 50 meter away from other people. At the 41 mile aid station I asked for hot chocolate, who would have thought! I was getting cold because it started to drizzle again and the wind was blowing, and after nearly give hours of running my body was not expending much energy to heat myself. This turned into quite the adventure for my crew. I thought the aid stations would have hot chocolate, but of course not, it's never that easy. For the record, if I ever ask for something in a race, and I didn't bring it in my bag, I don't really need it. Unless it's something ridiculous like a 24 hour race or longer, in that case you probably have time to go get it.

Oh the Pain!
I passed 45 miles in 5:15:something. Yeah that nine mile stretch was rough. At 45.5 mile was the last aid station and my sister must have known I wanted to stop by the look on my face because she kept saying, “Don’t stop, keep going!” as soon as I came around the corner. When I got to Kelsey on the other side of the aid station I took the salt pill, which we had a little fumble with but recovered well, and I took an entire 20 oz. bottle of gatorade, which was opposite to what I was saying earlier in the race. First I want less fluids, then I want more... Room for improvement.
Hot Chocolate!
I was really putting along at that point, my two slowest miles were 45 and 46. However, once I got those 20 oz. of gatorade in me, and knowing that the next stop included blankets, warmth, food, kept me pushing. At two miles I had looked back to see numerous people behind me, but then I didn't look back until mile 47. I rarely look back in race. We're talking, I can't remember the last time I looked back, it's pointless really, you need to focus on yourself. I didn't see anyone, but I was sure I was going to get passed so I kept pushing to hold on to whatever I could. It was so lonely out there I had no idea how I was doing compared to anyone else. It was starting to rain again, and it was windy. It was going to be a struggle with the weather the whole way. I looked back again with two miles to go, still no one, so I was even more nervous and kept pushing.

Finally I hit a mile to go, and I looked back a third time, and still no one! I wasn't about to get beat at the line so I pushed harder, which is not very fast at that point. A few turns into the park and then I finished! There was just one guy sitting at the finish line and he told me to keep going to the medical tent. I ran another 75 meters and stopped by the four medical people there. Then I sat down on a cot and drank a cup of gatorade. Berea and Kelsey were nowhere to be found, so I started walking over to the big event tent thinking they were inside out of the wind and rain. Then they came running around the corner yelling my name and I collapsed in their arms a moment later, exhausted from a long six hours.

They helped me walk to the party tent and I sat down on a folding chair as they put my sweats on me and gave me some chocolate protein shake to drink. I was really happy to finish as high as I did, to be surrounded by two wonderful ladies, and to have finished the race healthy! 

Kelsey and Berea nailed crewing. I give them a solid A. A few little things for improvement, but honestly I ran through aid stations, and most of the people that beat me actually walked. Coming from 24 hour racing, you need to have good aid station handoffs, you do it 70+ times in one race.

We went over to Kelsey's cousin's house for a quick cold water bath, which really helped my recovery. I ate some more and we cleaned up a bit. Then we headed back towards Sheboygan, eating a late lunch in Green Bay. It was a very good trip, and very long. It was about 6:30 PM by the time we got back to my parents house, nearly 15 hours round trip.

My goals going into it were #1 to be in the top five, to get some prize money, and #2 run under 5:40 to get my name on the provisional list for the 2016 100K IAU championships. Unspoken was to finish the race healthy and have a good experience, indeed more important than #1 and #2. I will take it. My finishing time was 5:54:33 for 7:06 pace average. Here is my Strava data. Also, congratulations to Camille for running 5:38 and setting the unofficial 50 mile world record by a couple minutes! It was previously an Ann Trason record. Also, Congratulations to Zach Bitter for setting the course record at 5:17! Honestly, they need to watch out, on a day with a little more competition, and not the rain and wind we had, both of those records could go down. It's not a really flat course, 1300 feet of vertical climbing, but it's not terribly slow.

Thank you to my parents for hosting everyone this past weekend! Thank especially for cooking gluten free and vegan meals, most people don't even consider doing that. Thank you Berea for coming up and helping out, a second time! I'm happy this race went much better for me than the Italy experience in April and you could see that. Thank you Kelsey for coming and spending your whole weekend helping me run this "short" race! Thank you Howard for coaching me! I'm still going to argue some things, but I'm here, I'm healthy, and you helped me get to this point. Thanks everyone else for reading!

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