Mar 21, 2011

NJ Ultra Festival 50 Miler: 12:28 (PR)

Mile 30. Photo by Emmy Stocker
Pleased to report that I achieved a new Pesonal Record at the 50-mile distance this weekend at the NJ Trail Series' Ultra Festival 50-miler. My old PR, 13;18, was a full 50 minutes slower than what I did on Saturday, meaning that improved my pace by one minute per mile!

I ran this race for a couple of reasons. Completing 50 miles two weeks prior to a 100-miler is a risky proposition and I'm still not sure it was very wise - I might have been better off doing 50K. We'll see in two weeks. However I do feel like I gained a lot doing this, if not in training benefit, in what I learned. But before I go into that, let's do a quick review of how the race went for me:

The course
The course for the 50-miler consisted of four out-and-backs - two on the 16-mile western leg and two on the 9-mile eastern leg. Included in each of these legs is about a 2.5mile (round-trip) road section, which felt rather hilly late in the race, but the rest of the course was essentially flat rail-trail. For the purposes of this report I'm going to refer to each out-and-back as a "lap."

Lap 1 - western leg (16 miles)

I was granted by the race director permission to take an early start with the 100-milers at 4am. Civil dawn wasn't until 6:35am and sunrise not until 7:02, so the majority of this loop was run in the dark. However, I can't claim complete darkness - the full moon was in fact bright enough that I actually was able to shut off my headlamp and enjoy the serenity of the flat, smooth, rail-trail lit sufficiently by the moonlight. I can't tell you why, but there is something really enjoyable about running in the mostly-dark without an artificial light.

Maintained a 10 minute run/2-3 minute walk routine for most of this loop. Was forced by nature to take a 10-minute bathroom break after this loop, but I was kind of fine in that regard for the rest of the race.

Lap 2 - western leg (16 miles)

Now in daylight, I finally got to see the course. It was a lot of this:
I loves me some rail trails - flat, smooth, straight, and a soft surface
Continued my 10/3 run/walk routine for most of this. Took a few extended walk breaks, but I was mostly OK. Marathon split was under 6 hours, 50K was about 7 hours. Neither of those times were PRs, which part of me was hoping for - but the smarter part of me knew that PRing on a marathon probably isn't the best idea in a 50-miler. It was during this loop that I noticed that I had no appetite at all, which alarmed me. One of the aid stations had salt, so I took a few caps and forced myself to eat an energy bar, which helped, but appetite never really came back. I survived on gels and heed, which was making me slightly nauseous. It wasn't too bad though.

Lap 3- eastern leg (9 miles)

By mile 35, back on the rail trail, I was feeling pretty good. Remarkably good, in fact, and with 25K to go I made a conscious decision to abandon my walk-run strategy. I knew by now that a PR was in the bag, and the question was how much of a PR can I manage? I was able to comfortably jog at about 12:30 per mile, and figured that in the best case I could break 12 (which I needed about 15:30 miles to do at this point), and possibly even get close to 11:30. 12:00 became my goal though, and, being impatient, decided to get as many sub-13 miles in the bank as possible so that I can cruise my last lap into a glorious finish. It didn't work out that way. But, I did run a solid 5 continuous miles or so, not counting about 5 minutes total I spent at an aid station (false alarm bathroom break.) Food in any form did not look good at all, and this aid station did not have salt tablets. I forced down a gel and did my best to stay hydrated, by topping off a heed-filled pack with water, diluting it and making it less nauseating. But I was able to run, and I ran almost all of the rail-trail portion of this lap. Near the end of it, I sent a facebook message- "40 mile split was 9:20, just have to hold it together these last 10 miles."

Lap 4- eastern leg (9 miles)

I fell apart. I ran most of the path to the rail-trail, which was downhill from HQ. When I got back on the rail-trail, I tried to resume some sort of a run/walk strategy, because by now I knew that I wasn't going to be able to run the next 6 miles. It quickly became obvious that I wasn't going to be able to run at all, except in short meaningless spurts. Kicking myself for my lack of patience in lap 3, I abandoned my effort to go sub-12, which relieved a tremendous amount of mental pressure. Just wanting it to be over, I walked as quickly as I could but was rarely below 16 minutes per mile. If I jogged even a mere 5% of the rail trail portion of this last lap I'd be surprised. Even the downhill home-stretch to the finish, barely a football field long, was a slog. I came in at 12:28, which I decided that I wouldn't complain about. But I would take home some hard-learned lessons.

Mistakes I made that I won't be making Umstead

1.) Patience!! Had I kept going with my run/walk strategy on lap 3, I might have been much better in lap 4. I could have kept my average pace at 14:00-14:30 that late in the race and maintained it for much longer. Instead, wanting the race to be over, running of 5 consecutive miles under 13:00 ruined me for the last 10 which were in the 17-18 range.

2.) Salt. I usually don't think too much about salt supplements but the lack of appetite and the onset of mild nausea told me I should have. I was OK for the 50 but I'm pretty sure they'd have become a serious problem in a 100-mile race. On the occasion where there was salt at the aid station, I seemed to feel better for the next hour or two. So much can go wrong in a 100, and taking salt seems like a reasonable way to avoid several things that can potentially knock me out. I've already ordered a bottle of S-Caps to use at Umstead.

Other thoughts

I've said it before and I'll say it again. 100 miles scares the crap out of me. The difference between 50K and 50M is pretty profound - in fact (I'm going to regret writing this) 50K is pretty friggin' easy by comparison. There was a period that I went through on Saturday - probably miles 43-47 - where I concluded that, with how I was feeling at that point in the 50, there was no way I can finish a 100. I knew then and I know now that those low points come and go. But they're pretty devastating when you're in the midst of them.

This was a dress rehearsal for Umstead. All things being equal, coming in at 12:28 was a huge confidence booster - Statistics from the Umstead web site indicate that sub-13 hours in the first 50 of a 100 dramatically improve chances of finishing. One thing I need to avoid is the giving in to the uncontrollable urge to sit down to rest late in a race. Merely hanging out at aid stations is a bad sign. It really eats up time.

So, if I recover completely from this race (I tend to recover quickly, so I'm not too concerned about that), and if I can stay disciplined at Umstead in terms of salt, in terms of patience (God grant me the peace of mind..) and in terms of keeping moving (God grant me the tenacity..), I think I have a pretty good shot at finishing. These next two weeks before Umstead are pretty crazy. There's an entire trip to California and back happening next weekend. And then travel by car to Raleigh.. I'll be relieved when it's all over!