AM: 3:59 :: 32+M (oops)
Sub-consciously I must have considered 50k inadequate today. That is the only reasonable explanation for missing a hard left 3 miles from the end of the 1st 25k loop today. Also I thought it would be beneficial to crank out somewhere between 5:30-5:45 mile pace to get back to the missed turn once I realized that maybe 50k was far enough after all. Yeah, that's the ticket.
The Afton 50k is an example of truth in advertising. From the race website:
The 50K course is a double loop of the 25K, almost entirely woodland and prairie trails. There are many, many hills. Absolutely No Whining!
After two loops and just under 4 hours out there this morning, I'd have to say that is spot on. The forecast before the race was showing high temps in the 90s and high humidity. Unfortunately that came to fruition, but at least the first hour or so was bearable.
I ran conservatively the first lap, really taking my time on the downhills. I felt excellent today; the three easy recovery days prior helped with that. I ran all of the uphills on the first lap and was also able to stretch out my legs on the two flat portions along the river. Leaving the last aid station of the first loop at 12.5 miles I was on pace to reach 25k in about 1:50. I was very satisfied with that given how rested and relaxed I felt.
However, it was about a minute after leaving the aid station that I missed a hard left onto the single track snowshoe loop. It was marked pretty well, but due to the tall grass I failed to see the orange course markings further down the trail that would have alerted me to turn. Instead I continued down the paved bike path that loosely followed the main park road. It was here that I made mistake #2. Not seeing any orange flags for awhile I began to question whether I was on course or not. It didn't seem to make sense that there would be this much pavement in a trail race, at least not this one. I was getting nervous because I was running down a fairly sizable hill and up another one. If I was wrong back tracking was going to be a bitch. I slowed to a jog and considered my options. I finally decided I was going the wrong way, turned around, and high-tailed it back the way I came, all the while doing this.
As soon as I turned around I was pretty certain where I had gone wrong. It was pretty obvious it was where I last saw flags. At this point I was running HARD. All I wanted to do was get back on course. I knew I was putting myself in a hole with this pace, but a I also knew that once I got back on course I would be running single track so the pace would be slow anyway. I kept wondering how many people had passed me.
I got back to where I went wrong and started just hammering the single track as hard as I could. I didn't care what it would cost me on the second lap, I just felt like running off some of the frustration. Who gets lost during a race!? Aye.
Eventually I calmed down a bit, settled into a nice rhythm and soldiered on towards the end of the first loop. On the long hill coming out of the single track I caught Andy Holak, a friend and Duluthian. He informed me that there was only one person other person ahead of him. Now I had something to shoot for on the second loop, given that a fast time was out of the question. I figure I lost about 10 minutes on the wrong turn. I came through the 12.5 aid station at 1:28, it couldn't have been more than a couple minutes to the turn I missed, and I got back to that spot around 1:40. My goals now were to catch whoever was in front of me and try to run an "even" split. Given the heat, hills, and fatigue I figured it would be sufficient to run the second loop (without missing a turn) in the same time I ran the first loop with the brain fart.
I set out on the second loop with a new water bottle and without my shirt. It was getting hot now. By the end of the race it was in the mid-90s. I tackled the uphills a little more cautiously this time around. On the really steep sections I came to the realization that I was only going to gain 2o seconds at most by running them, but with an energy cost many times higher than that. I was drinking a lot more often this loop. The first time through I didn't refill my water bottle until 15k. Now I was polishing it off every couple of aid stations. I felt good on the hills, probably because they were in the shade. By this time of the day, any open, prairie sections of the course were brutal. I felt like I was baking. It was a strange feeling to actively be hoping for hills (and thus shade).
I came upon Matt, the leader, just after the second aid station. He was running his first ultra and at that point it looked like he was feeling the effects. He wasn't carrying water with him which probably made things much more difficult. I passed him fairly quickly, giving him as much encouragement as I could. I was trying to manage my own fatigue as well. My goal was not to race today, but rather get in a long, somewhat hard run. With that in mind, I kept my aggression in check. I continued to run/speed hike the hills, get through the downhills safely, and chug along on the few flat sections there were.
I came through the 15k aid station in good shape, but soon after started to feel lightheaded and weak. I had been drinking religiously the whole race, but on a day like this, it still wasn't enough. This was a flat section of course and there was a pretty knarly climb from the river ahead. I did my best to run what I could on the hill, but I found myself hiking as fast as I could most of the way. Coming out on top I knew it wasn't far to that 12.5M aid station, but a good portion of it was out on the prairie. It felt like it took forever. Definitely a low point, energy wise. I finally got into the final aid station, topped off my water bottle and downed a few cups of cola and sponged off. The sponging, which I had been doing the whole second lap, ended up causing some of the worst chafing I have ever experienced down below. That led to a somewhat humorous exchange at Walgreens later that day when I was purchasing products that were primarily sold for diaper rash.
Cashier: Someone (read "child") at home have a little rash?
So things were a little uncomfortable at this point. On the bright side, I made the correct turn the second time around. The short re-fueling break at the aid station had brought me back around. I really felt 100% now, which I found amazing. I scootered through the single track as best I could. I was coming upon lapped 50k runners and the back end of the 25k so the trail became a bit crowded at times. I popped out on top of the hill with just about 1k to go and I could see that if I got rolling I could still break 4 hours. Final time: 3:59:43.
I felt remarkably good (chaffing aside) after finishing. My stomach was a little upset so it was awhile before I could take advantage of the hamburgers and other goodies. There was really no soreness to speak of, although I'm sure my quads will be tender tomorrow - damn DOMS.
As far as the race (event/organization) goes: I can't recommend it enough. The course is beautifully hard, but I found it very runnable - and thats coming from a road runner who is largely a trail wuss. I hope to get back there in the future - if only for the kick-ass winner's trophy: