AM: Rocky Raccoon 50M (6:01:04) :: 50M
Traveling to Texas to get in a long run may seem a little extreme, but given that the high temps in Minneapolis this weekend were below zero, it appeared to be a pretty good call. This race served two purposes for me: the aforementioned long run in preparation for the US 100km Championship in April and a dry run of Huntsville State Park where I will be racing again in December at Sunmart. The time of year was right, as well as the reputation of the trail for being fairly non-technical. The goals for the day: stay healthy, finish strong, and run as close to 7 min/mile pace (depending on trail conditions of course. The area had seen a bit of rain over the last week.)
Since Erik wasn't running I was able to sleep in a little bit. I got up around 4:30 to eat an energy bar, a banana, and begin hydrating. I had laid out my drop bag items and water bottles the night before so there really wasn't anything to do but shower, stretch and head out the door.
I arrived at the park just before the 6 a.m. start for the 100 mile. I'm guessing the temp was right around 30 degrees. A little cold for standing around, but good for the runners. The 100 milers took off, most of them wearing headlamps as it was still dark. This is something I still cannot get over: trail running in the dark. I had enough trouble running 50 miles in daylight over these trails. It was hard to fathom many of these runners would be running through the night.
I spent most of the next hour staying warm in the car and continuing to drink NUUN. Just before the race I was trying to determine exactly where the race volunteers were going to put my drop bag. They seemed to continuously be moving them around. It was important to me because I wanted to minimize my time at this aid station. I wasn't too stressed however. After all, this was just a long run.
We started promptly at 7:00 a.m. I decided to wear a long sleeve shirt underneath the Montrail team shirt Kurt loaned me. It was a bit nippy, but I just wore shorts, banking on the fact that things would warm-up pretty quickly with the sunrise. The 50 mile course consisted of three 16.67 mile loops. The 100 milers would add an out/back section near the beginning of the loop, but we would run the balance of the race on the same trails. It was plenty light out as we made our way out from the Lodge. The first section of trail to Amy's Crossing was in good shape; not too muddy and very runnable. Passing through the crossing we merged with the 100 milers and I could tell this would be both good and bad the rest of the day. It was nice/encouraging to see these runners out there, but it did make passing difficult and did result in one fall later on in the race. Nevertheless, I felt good running-wise. Pace was hard to determine, but I was resolved to run on feel rather than time. I passed through the Dam Road aid station about 30 seconds down on 7 min/mile pace. I was satisfied with that given the warm-up interval for the first part of the race and the passing I had to do.
Now I was running on the jeep road and I was able to stretch my legs out for a little bit. That eventually turned to mush on the run up to the Far Side aid station. They had warned us about this section in the prerace briefing. One section did force runners to basically stop and walk through the brush around a small lake of mud. This out and back section also got a little crowded with both races going on. It was difficult to pass, but it also forced me to relax. It seemed to be the most hilly section of the course, but I could be wrong. Perception and reality aren't always the same. This was also my first glimpse of the 100 mile leaders. There were three guys running together at what looked like a pretty good clip. Hard to believe they were running a 100 miles.
Coming back to Dam Road I was feeling good. I had finished off the EFS sports drink I had started with, so I re-filled with water and popped in a NUUN tablet. It offered a nice change of pace; a cleansing of the palate if you will. I also munched on some pretzels that I had packed in my little pouch.
I continued to pass 100 mile runners on the next section of course to the Site 174 aid station. At this point the trail seemed to get a little root-filled. It wasn't the Superior Hiking Trail, but it wasn't Trail Mix either. I think I subconsciously backed off the pace here because all I could think about is how tired I would be negotiating this section on the third lap. I cruised through Site 174, grabbed some Gatorade and ran the last section back to the Lodge feeling pretty good about the first lap.
At the Lodge I had a moment of panic as I couldn't find my bag. A kind volunteer helped me locate it and I hurriedly grabbed some Ritz crackers, a gel, and a new bottle filled with EFS. Time at the aid station: 2 minutes. A lot longer than planned, but again, training run.
By the second loop I had passed the majority of the 100 mile runners and hadn't yet lapped 50 milers, so I was running pretty free on the trail. Now the pace started to quicken a little bit. I was wary, but I was willing to test my legs out for a little bit. I still backed off on the up hills and, with my lack of technical trail running skill, I couldn't really run fast through the roots. I found a nice balance. At the start I had another moment of panic when I realized I didn't have my IPOD on and couldn't remember where I had put it. When I went to grab my first gel I found it in my pouch. Since my mind was fresh and there were ample distractions on the trail I decided to hold off on wearing it until the second lap. Now I was grooving along to the music and feeling pretty good about life. Just before Site 174 I passed the 100 mile leader, Anton Krupicka. He looked fantastic and was covering ground quickly. At the time I felt like I was just bulldozing my way through the course, but he looked like he was gliding over it. Very impressive. I came into the Lodge the second time around with a cumulative time of 3:54 and left by 3:55, a much more efficient trip. So, 1:55 to run 5:50 (7min pace) and 2:05 to break 6 hrs. The former was questionable as it was hard to imagine running another lap comfortably at that pace, but the latter I felt was a pretty good bet.
I maintained a pretty good pace for the first section of lap 3, but my first fall came as I was negotiating the mud and other runners at Amy's Crossing. My knee got banged up pretty good, but the pain passed after a little more running. It was a shock to the system, as I was starting to feel tired (as should be expected after 34 miles). The rhythm I had was gone and I found that I was tripping a lot more now. On the Jeep Road I got into a groove again, albeit slower. I wasn't dying and, if I was running for time, I would have been able to gut out a faster pace, but I was definetly in that hazy mode. You know, when you don't feel quite as crisp and sitting down sounds pretty good. I turned to Coke the second trip through Dam Road. The caffiene perked me up, but that didn't make the roots and smaller. About halfway to Site 174 I took a pretty scary fall that almost resulted in me getting impaled by some brush. At that point I noticed I was feeling lightheaded and needed to force myself to drink and eat even though I was a bit nauseous. This required me to walk a short stretch just to focus on that. Once I got going again (with some effort as I was a little tight) I didn't stop until Site 174. One last fill up of Coke, a little walking to get some more Ritz down and I was on my way to the finish. Although my head was still a little fuzzy and I was slowing down, I was happy with my race. My legs felt pretty good thanks to the soft trail (much more forgiving than the roads). Once I took the last turn onto the trail leading back to the Lodge I was able to open it up a little bit. I looked at my watch and did the math. Although, I was feeling good, I didn't think I could pick it up enough to break 6 hours. I jogged in comfortably in 6:01 and felt remarkably good.
After sitting and refueling for awhile I packed up my things and headed back to the hotel for a shower and a nap. I made my way back to the park around 4:00 to watch the race for a little longer (and try to study some financial accounting as well). Darkness started to fall around 5:30 and a lot of the 100 milers that came through the lodge had to strap on their headlamps for the remainder of their race. Some of them looked in rough shape and some looked like they just started. The volunteers were cooking up some tasty food to keep them going (I think I smelled fajitas, but I could be wrong). Anton came flying through the darkness to finish in about 13:32. That is about 8:07/mile. For reference 6:01 for 50 miles works out to 7:13/mile. So he only ran about a minute slower per mile for twice as far. That puts things in perspective.
Overall, I would say this weekend was a success. I think my lack of trail running prowess hurt my overall time, but I don't feel banged up. Its almost as if the trail wouldn't let me run too fast (or at least as fast as I would have on the road). I'm curious to find out how this course compares to Sunmart, which is run on basically the same trails. If they are similiar I am absolutely stunned by Greg Crowther's 5:37. It may have just been a long run for me, but I had, at most, 10 minutes faster in me. I guess this is why I run primarily on the roads.
My award for winning the 50 mile was a beautiful, but large piece of finished wood adorned with a name plate. This proved to be a bit of a bear to lug around, as it would not fit in any of my bags. It also caused a bit of delay with security at DFW. I have a few pictures I took of the park and the race I will post soon. Results will be here. A big thanks to all the volunteers. The aid stations were very well run, the course well marked, and the encouragement unending.
LINK 1 (today's distractions)
Unlikely Scenario Handbook
Blades of Steel Trailer
Why did fox cancel Arrested Development?
LINK 2 (Ipod music from Rocky Raccoon)